Choose Your Own Major
By Cathleen Ann Steg
The Heart of Virginia Council's University of Cub Scouting is a day of training opportunities for commissioners and unit leaders.
”Who has heard the birch-log burning?” asked Bill Young, the charismatic opening speaker for the Heart of Virginia Council’s University of Cub Scouting. “Who is quick to read the noises of the night?”
The audience of Cub Scout commissioners and unit leaders was sitting inside one of the cathedral-like halls on the University of Richmond’s serene, suburban campus. But Young’s use of poetry by Rudyard Kipling and prose by Robert S.S. Baden-Powell helped transport them to a flickering campfire in the deepest woods.
Young’s address served to energize the gathering of new and experienced volunteers who were about to begin a day of instruction in the art and science of serving Cub Scouts.
“All of us here today are living monuments to the legacy of Baden-Powell [founder of the worldwide Scouting movement],” he reminded them as they prepared to experience the council’s first combined commissioner college and Cub Scout pow wow.
“We tried to combine training for unit leaders and commissioners by holding the commissioner college and pow wow in the same place,” explained event chairman Kathy Rock.
This enabled trainers to offer some classes to both groups, such as Webelos transition to Boy Scouts, unit fund-raising and finance, charter renewal, and youth protection training. The university also provided classes for newer den leaders, like outdoor cooking, fundamentals of songs and skits, and program planning with BSA monthly themes.
“You could spend all day here, either learning things for your Cub Scout den or your Webelos Scouts, or for your role as a pack committee member or as a commissioner,” Rock said, adding that the program also offered full-day den chief training.
A tempting menu
Attendees could choose from a tempting menu of courses, led by veteran Scouters who peppered their lectures with anecdotes from decades in the field.
Tom Johnson, dean of the commissioner college, described the background of some of these seasoned volunteers, saying, “When boys turn 21, we don’t kick ’em out; we turn them into leaders.”
With 33 years in Scouting, Johnson brought ample experience to his introductory class for commissioners, outlining their key role as liaison between the council and local Scout units.
District commissioner Lloyd Dunnavant led a session on unit finance in which he emphasized the importance of a unit budget plan—and selling popcorn.
“When popcorn first came out [as a widespread sales item] 15 years ago, I wasn’t enthusiastic about it,” he said. “But when I became a Cubmaster, I changed my mind. We raised so much money we were able to rent a state park!”
This kind of anecdotal wisdom helped to engage—and educate—the new volunteers, who better understood the commissioner’s role in maintaining successful units.
Some attendees had little background in Scouting while others were old hands, ready to share their own experiences even as they learned a new wrinkle or two.
Kathy Rock’s class on “Short Pack Jobs” provided a lively exchange of ideas among unit leaders when she opened with her big question: “What’s your toughest job?”
Responses varied from recruiting a volunteer to being in charge of the annual popcorn money-earning campaign to finding people to help with crafts at the den level.
To help keep them from taking on too many pack tasks by themselves, Rock encouraged her group to brainstorm ways to break down jobs and give everyone an opportunity to be successful in one small step.
“Let’s say I walk into a variety store and get the materials I need for a craft project. What next?” Rock asked.
As a Cubmaster or den leader, volunteers shouldn’t hesitate to ask for support, she said. Parents do not always know how they can help out. By giving them a survey form (the Parent and Family Talent Survey Sheet in the Cub Scout Leader Book, BSA No. 33221D) and by letting them know how much time the leader spends preparing for their children, most parents “will step up and help you out.”
In addition to this thorough focus on administration and organization, the university honed in on skills that will help Cub Scouts transition to Boy Scouts and then stick with their troop once they join.
To that end, Richard Brett, Troop 760 Scoutmaster, presented an outdoor cooking class for Webelos Scout leaders. Brett started the class about four years ago in an attempt to “get leaders more comfortable with trying to teach some outdoor skills to their Webelos Scouts.”
It is important for Webelos Scouts to have these experiences in order to develop some outdoor skills before moving into a troop, Brett noted. Otherwise, if they feel “inept, they won’t stay with the troop.
But if they know how to scramble eggs, or if they can cook with charcoal, they’ll feel the kind of confidence that will keep them in the troop.”
Working out of an impressive chuck box in a campus parking area, leaders attempted Brett’s “Webelos Advanced Cooking Menu,” which featured breakfast burritos, “John’s taco soup,” chicken cacciatore, doughnuts, and “smoochies” (refrigerated biscuits wrapped around pieces of chocolate and dropped into hot oil).
After a full day on campus, what did these “university students” gain?
Assistant district commissioner Mac Drane, whose involvement in Scouting dates back to 1948, took notes on improving Cub Scout recruiting and retention, an increasing challenge.
The university placed “a few nuggets in the back of my head that I want to work on, to see if we can make them work with the people in our district,” he said.
Troop 2880 Scoutmaster Gary Gibbs agreed. “I’m always looking for new ideas, little tidbits,” he said.
“What I find valuable, too, is not just what you get from your instructor. You’ve also got vast amounts of Scouting knowledge in the room.
“When you’ve got such great participation, you can bounce ideas off each other, and get so much more out of what you hear. I’m excited!
Contributing editor Cathleen Ann Steg lives in Fairfax, Va.
Editor's note :Next summer, the Cub Scout Division will offer two weeklong “Cub Scout Leader Extravaganza” sessions (June 22 to June 28 and Aug. 10 to Aug. 16) at the BSA’s Philmont Training Center near Cimarron, N.M.
Each extravaganza will provide Cub Scout volunteers a combined pow wow and commissioner college experience.
Copyright © 2007 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.