A Letter From A Former Scoutmaster

As we transition to full-on fall, membership, popcorn and year-end fundraising become the focus of your professional staff.

This is normally a celebratory time of year – new members onboarding, parades, busy weekends, etc.  In 2020, things look quite a bit different.

Last year, we recruited over 600 new Scouts in September, this year a mere fraction of that.

Despite the hardships of Coronavirus, school access, bad press – our concern turns to our volunteers. How do you offer a quality program through all of this? Are youth enjoying a good Scouting experience right now?

In expressing that concern, I turned to my former Scout leader and life-long mentor.  He offered the following note to a frustrated Scoutmaster.  I think it speaks to all of our dedicated Scouters:

Dear Scoutmaster,

I read with great interest your recent letter to the members of your Unit’s Scouting family. It is always good for Council or District leadership to hear what is on the mind of the “rank and file” of the organization.

I recognize the difficulties you are experiencing in your role as Scoutmaster. You are not alone. Many, if not most Scoutmasters, have had similar experiences and feelings. I also have experienced the difficulties of “Scoutmaster” of a small unit with little parent involvement and lack of youth motivation. 

Woodbadge training can be and usually is a very positive and uplifting experience. Returning home can be difficult and challenging when faced with a different and less enthusiastic home crowd. 

I was once told by a “Region suit type” that membership nearly always falls in a unit the year after the Scoutmaster attends Woodbadge but then rebounds when more unit leaders achieve similar training. It might be called the “enthusiasm gap”.

When the local and National PTA associations stopped being charter partners and schools stopped giving access, we thought the world had come to an end. Everything became harder: recruitment, retention, fundraising, etc. 

Communities shunned us for believing we were anti-gay and pedophilic harboring miscreants. 

Even public access to lands was, in some places, suspended. Well, tough challenges somehow hardened us who had a belief in the movement. These obstacles, though hard, were only difficulties to face and overcome. 

I learned every generation of leadership faces headwinds, social challenges and financial obstacles.

Scouting survived WW1, the Great Depression, WW2 and the anti-military 70s and 80s. Scout leaders endured, learned, and adapted to change.

Looking in the mirror, they saw flaws requiring the rethinking of many held-fast traditions.

They did, we did and you can too. Scouting’s future has not been written. Only it’s past.

How you and others in the same position respond to these current headwinds will determine the outcome. The need for character development has not lessened, physical fitness continues to be necessary, citizenship training now, as always, is critical. 

You have the training, you have the basic tools, you can rise to the challenge. 

Others Scoutmasters are looking for leadership: someone with a positive message, an optimistic attitude and perhaps one with a positive vision of how that future might look. 

Is that vision apocalyptic? Or is it one of a growing movement of forward-looking families and leaders creating positive change in the community using the platform of Scouting? To, “Enjoying the Game With a Purpose.”

I found that, when faced with similar challenges, I gained inspiration through our past National leaders, the founders of Scouting. Two Lives of a Hero, by Bill Hillcourt, is a good read. President John F. Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the Moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” That is why we do it. 

Our future is uncertain. It always has been and always will be. The opportunities are great and the obstacles real, but the rewards of a generation of new Eagle Scouts is of inestimable value to our communities. The intended consequences, though vast and far-reaching, are worth every effort.

You can do this work Scoutmaster. There are youth who desire what you have to offer and adults who will appreciate your dedication and efforts. They all benefit from your optimism and your positive view of Scouting’s great future.

I hope to see you on the Scouting Trail someday in that future.

Yours in Scouting,
A former Scoutmaster

I am reminded of the Starfish Story in which an old man sees a young boy picking up starfish on the beach and throwing them into the ocean. The old man said, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and replied, “It made a difference to that one!”

We are in a tough place today, but we have been in many tough places throughout our history. It is our turn, our opportunity and our duty to make sure Scouting survives to the next great challenge.  Many individuals made sure that I had a great program.

Yours in Scouting,

Jory A. Dellinger
Deputy Scout Executive