When it comes to maintaining a healthy Scout unit, recruiting is king. The ability to consistently bring in new members is the lifeblood of every troop, crew or ship.
A large part of recruiting is simply running the program the way it was designed to be run. Let the Scouts lead. Make sure they get outdoors. Keep them safe. Keep them motivated. Stay out of the way.
A recruiting event — sometimes called Webelos Outdoor Weekend or Webelos Woods — is a great way to show off your program. It’s an opportunity to recruit new Scouts not by telling them why they should join, but by showing them what it could be like when they join.
In many ways, a recruiting campout should be like a regular campout for your Scouts. You just invite local Webelos and Arrow of Light Scouts — and their parents — to join you.
Bill Shaffer, Scoutmaster of Troop 26 in Tulsa, Okla., knows a thing or two about recruiting. He’s been a Scoutmaster for more than 50 years. In 2010, Troop 26 made the decision to set aside a monthly campout specifically for that purpose.
They chose October, because that’s the time many Arrow of Light Scouts are shopping around for Scouts BSA troops to join. They incorporate a family-friendly Halloween theme just to make it extra appealing for the visiting Cub Scouts. Recently they even arranged a visit from the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
The result — what they call Hallo-Weekend — has been a smashing success. It’s grown so much over the years that they’ve starting invited neighboring troops to join them.
As with any Scout campout, the key to a successful recruiting event is planning. Because the event is so ingrained in the culture of Troop 26, everyone takes a tremendous amount of pride in doing their part to pull it off.
“The primary thing we do is to think about the legacy [of this event],” Shaffer says. “There’s an appreciation for what has happened in the past, and also they look forward to what happens after they’re gone.”
That means not just camping alongside the Webelos. It means camping with the Webelos.
“I’ve been to a million activities where Webelos are invited, and you go with a specific troop, and the older boys are over here, and the younger boys are over there, and the Webelos are in a third spot, and nobody’s mingling,” Shaffer says. “That’s counterproductive.”
The Scouts of Troop 26 host activities for the Webelos to enjoy. Some activities help the younger kids complete their Arrow of Light requirements. Others are designed to show the kinds of things that Scouts BSA members can do.
The Scouts BSA leaders are expected not just to give instructions, but to get to know the Webelos on a personal level.
“‘Hey, you in the blue hat’ doesn’t really work,” Shaffer says. “You have to take the time to meet them and get to know them a little bit. That increases the chances of Scouting getting a new Scout — if not with us, maybe with someone else.”
Youth Leadership Emerges
Nathan McCorkle, 14, was the senior patrol leader of Troop 26 at their most recent Hallo-Weekend. He had already been part of two previous recruiting campouts, so he had a good idea of what worked and what wouldn’t work.
“We want to show them how our troop functions and what we do,” Nathan says.
The fact that the Scouts BSA members lead the Cub Scouts through the activities means the whole thing is a win-win experience. The younger kids get to check off some requirements while learning from the older kids. The older kids get some leadership experience and learn what all Cub Scout leaders already know: Wrangling a group of Cub Scouts isn’t that easy.
“Most of time they’re really interested in what we’re doing,” says Nathan, “but some of them are really super excited about everything, and some of them can get a little too excited.”
At night, they settle in for skits around a campfire.
“After the main activities during the day, we show them around the campsite, and I show them the patrol campsites and everything so they can kind of see how the troop works and how the campouts work.”
A few years ago, Troop 26’s Hallo-Weekend was allowed to invite girls to attend — not as siblings, but as real Scouts — for the first time.
Andrea Warner had been a den leader for both her son and daughter. When her daughter, Katie, joined Cub Scouting as a Webelos Scout, she attended Hallo-Weekend shortly after. Before she knew it, Warner had started a new girls’ Scouts BSA unit: Troop 126. (They share many of the same leaders as Troop 26.)
A New Perspective
Warner has seen the benefits of the event both as a Cub Scout leader and a Scouts BSA leader.
“As a Webelos leader, you know how to explain things,” Warner says. “But when you’re explaining it to Webelos who have never done it, it’s hard for them to visualize.”
A recruiting weekend event, on the other hand, makes it all very real.
Merl Whitebook, Troop 126’s committee chair, says he’s enjoyed watching his Scouts take the younger girls under their wings.
“It gives our Scouts the opportunity to work with them and walk by their sides,” Whitebook says, “to teach them and to mentor them, and to start building relationships with the younger Scouts who will be hopefully transitioning into Scouts BSA.”
Whereas the boys of Troop 26 had about 10 years of history to draw from, the girls of Troop 126 had never done this before.
“We made sure that [the Webelos] felt included in everything we did,” says Maren Hettler, 12, of Troop 126.
“We wanted to make them feel like they were a part of our troop. We didn’t treat them any differently than you would treat any of our Scouts.”
At the most recent event, the weather didn’t exactly cooperate. There was rain. There was mud. And there was an opportunity for the Scouts BSA members to teach the Webelos how to keep a positive attitude no matter what.
“A handful of them were a little crazy,” says Haley Whitebook, 13, “but I really liked seeing all of the smiling faces.”
Photographs by W. Garth Dowling