Two Februarys ago, Troop 6 in Sellersburg, Ind., welcomed 14 graduating Webelos Scouts from a single den; 10 are still active and form the troop’s core leadership group.
In March 2020, Troop 828 in Lutherville, Md., welcomed a den of 15 graduating Webelos Scouts; it has retained 100% of them despite the turmoil of the pandemic. (They attended exactly one troop meeting before activities went virtual.)
Successes like these are no accident. Instead, they stem from hard work both before and after the moment Scouts walk across a bridge.
Setting the Stage
In Sellersburg, den leader Dean Bottorff began preparing his boys during the fall of their fourth-grade year. He formed them into two “patrols,” and had them camp and cook together on a den campout.
“It was a mess, but they really enjoyed it,” he says.
On the campout, the Cub Scouts stayed in tents with their buddies while their parents slept nearby. Bottorff, an Eagle Scout, wanted them to experience how troops function.
Charting a Course
The year prior, the den visited three troops and camped with two. During their fifth-grade year, Bottorff convinced Troop 6 to send him den chiefs.
“They sent two Eagle Scouts over,” he says. “My boys absolutely loved them.”
All that activity set the stage for the big decision: which troop to join. In December of their fifth-grade year, Bottorff sat the boys down to discuss their impressions of all the troops they’d seen.
“We went through pros and cons — what they liked about them, what they didn’t like about them,” he says.
In the end, all but one Scout joined Troop 6. (The one joined the troop where his older brother was a member.)
Smoothing the Landing
Of course, joining a troop doesn’t guarantee success, which brings us to Troop 828. Assistant Scoutmaster Bill Schnirel says his troop works hard to make sure new Scouts start off strong.
Before their first summer camp, new Scouts have the chance to participate in two or three monthly outings and to earn one rank, one merit badge and one other award, typically the Firem’n Chit.
“It’s easy to do, and Scouts like to learn how to use matches, so it’s easy to engage them,” he says.
Parents also get attention, because it’s important to have them engaged.
“Some Scouts are ready for space, and others want to have their parents around a little bit,” he says. “Finding that growth area for both scenarios is important, and that only comes with having conversations with the parents.”
In fact, lots of conversations — among Scouts, parents and leaders at both ends of the crossover bridge — can ensure that Scouts join the right troop and stick around for years to come.