Grow Your Group

5 Simple Things You Can Do To Grow Scouting This Fall

5 Simple Things You Can Do To Grow Scouting This Fall

Percentage-wise, most people in Scouting aren’t Cubmasters. They aren’t in charge of fall recruiting campaigns this fall, but they can make all the difference when it comes to the success or failure of fall recruiting campaigns. Recruiting Cub Scouts is an exhausting endeavor, so they can use all the help they can get. If we’re going to grow Scouting, we need all hands on deck.

Are you a Scout parent who’s not volunteering with the pack, but wants to help make a better program for your son? Even if you haven’t been involved in Scouting for years, you can be a helper. You can make a difference. Even if your kids are long since grown and out of the house, you can make a difference. You can make sure that kids will get a program that will change their lives for the better.

So, if you’re a camp person, and you want your camp to be filled and vibrant over the years to come, you can’t ignore the recruiting of new scouts. You can’t just assume that someone else is going to do it. If you’re a Boy Scout leader, and you want kids in your troop in five years, then your help is needed to grow Scouting right now.

There are a lot of really simple things that you can volunteer to do in just a little bit of your spare time in the coming weeks that can make a huge difference in getting more families involved in Scouting. Here are just a few things you can do to help get the word out.

Like and Share Scouting Content on Facebook

Okay, if you’ve got an internet connection, a few Facebook account, and a pulse, you can help grow Scouting. If you’re not familiar with the way Facebook decides what shows up on people’s newsfeeds, the number of likes and shares has a great deal to do with it. So, if you’d rather see more scouting stuff in your newsfeed, and less stuff about the eclipse,

Are there community Facebook groups that you’re a member of? Share an article about Scouting in there. Share more than one. I wrote my 10 reasons you should sign your kid up for Cub Scouts. Feel free to share mine or write your own. Sharing content in popular groups is the best way to make sure

Check the local pack Facebook pages for Joining Night Events in your area. Share them on your Facebook Page, or better yet, invite your friends who have Cub Scout-aged kids or grandkids.


Talk about Scouting with your Friends

Have conversations with your friends about Scouting. If they’ve got kids or grandkids, let them know why they should sign them up. Find out when your local pack is having their joining night, and shoot off an email about it.


Volunteer to Do a Boy Talk

Some schools don’t allow Boy Talks, but many others do and don’t get covered because of a lack of volunteers to take the hour or so off work to go and actually do so. I’ve done lots of these, and they’re really a lot of fun to do. If your local public school won’t allow them, then check with your local private and parochial schools. Can you take a couple of hours out of your September to help grow Scouting?

Don’t just limit yourself to schools. Think about after-school programs, Sunday schools, day cares, rec leagues, PALs. Where can you go to talk scouting?


Put Up Yard Signs to grow Scouting

Does your yard have a “Join Scouting Sign” in it? Does your business? What about your church? Contact your local council or your local Cub Scout pack and ask them for one. Pay particular attention to the major routes in town, particularly to schools and major employers.

yard signs

The yard sign across from the school is always a big win.

One of the Cubmasters in a district I used to cover lived at the intersection of the road to the local elementary school. Right smack dab at the stop light. So every year, we made sure there was a Join Scouting sign on his lawn so that everyone who drove to the school would see it. When his family crossed over to the troop, I asked if he’d mind if we put a yard sign on his lawn whenever we were going to do a Joining Night. He, of course, approved.

We also had a church that chartered one of the local troops that agreed to let us put up a yard sign directly across from the driveway of the elementary school.

I’d also be thinking about the roads along the way to the busiest beaches and playgrounds in town. Where’s the traffic?

The more people see the message, the more likely your going to be to grow Scouting in your community.

Deliver Flyers, and Put up Posters

Do you have a business? Can you put a flyer or poster up in your window? What about the businesses around you? What about the lunch room at your office?

Even in the smallest of towns, there are places where you can hang flyers. Every ice cream shop should have a flyer on the bulletin board. Can you take a handful of flyers and put them up in storefronts around town?

Think of the places that parents and kids go in town, and make sure that there’s a flyer taped or pinned up there.



Photo by b0jangles

Posted by Mike Cooney in Grow Your Group, Marketing, Scouting, 0 comments
My Top 10 Reasons to Sign Your Son Up For Cub Scouts

My Top 10 Reasons to Sign Your Son Up For Cub Scouts

This September is a great time to sign your son in Kindergarten through 5th grade up for Cub Scouts. All over the country, Cub Scout packs will be welcoming new members. They’ll be holding joining nights where you can sign up your boy for an adventure that will prepare him for life.

My mom signed me up as a Cub Scout in 1985, in the basement of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Putnam. The program changed my life. Next June, I’ll be signing my now 4-year-old son up for the program. Now, you might be on the fence as to whether or not you should register your son. Here are my 10 reasons why I think you should. There are thousands more.

To listen to this as a podcast, click here.


10. He’ll Try New Things

The first mountain I ever climbed came during my time as a Cub Scout. My mom, who was also my den leader, climbed it with me. Mount Monadnock is the second-most climbed mountain in the world (because it’s easy to get to, and not terrifically difficult.) But when you’re 10, it’s a big deal. I remember getting to the summit. You see the world differently from up there. It’s a perspective that you can’t get anywhere else. You see that this really is a great big world, but you also see that if you keep working, you can get just about anywhere.

Cub Scouts launch rockets. Sometimes they’re model rockets. Maybe they’ll be water rockets. Sometimes air powered, but they launch stuff. It always gets oohs and aahs. There’s a certain amount of awe and confidence gained when the model rocket that they built shoots into the sky.

There will be lots of life-changing experiences like this. It could be the first night ever staying over in a tent. Maybe it’ll be the first time cooking their own food (with supervision, obviously.)

Cub Scouts is like the weather in New England. It always changes. One week they’re building birdhouses, the next, visiting the local firehouse, and the next they’re doing a community service project.

As life is varied, so is Cub Scouts. Nobody just does one thing. Throughout our lives, we play many roles, and in Scouting, you get to try out a lot of those roles.


9. You’ll Get to Experience Cub Scouts With Him

Cub Scouting is a family program. For kindergarten and first grade boys, it’s a “parent and me” program. You get to jump in with your boy. You get to be silly. The two of you will get to work together, going on adventures, and play together. You’ll probably learn things at the same time he does.

You get to be there when he does this impossible. You were there for his first step and remember his first word. Why wouldn’t you want to be there when he spends his first night in a tent, catches his first fish, or is awarded his Bear Badge? How much fun will it be to work with him building that Pinewood Derby car? Or baking that cake together?

Our kids grow up really fast, and these are moments that only come once in a lifetime.

cub scout photo

Photo by jillccarlson


8. He’ll Learn By Doing

There’s an old Chinese proverb, “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”

Scouts get to try things. They get to experience being a leader. He’ll get to build things. There will be exploring. He’ll see what it’s like to go to the TV station. Through “Go See Its” he’ll discover how things work.

He’ll learn to help his community by… helping in his community. Scouts in the US do over 13 million hours of community service each year.


7. Cub Scouts will Help Him Overcome Shyness

I think on some level, everyone has some level of shyness. Maybe you remember the old Jerry Seinfeld joke about people being more afraid of public speaking than death? Well, there’s really only one way to get over that fear, and that’s to actually get in front of people. Cub Scouts get to try out performing songs and skits in front of their whole Pack.

Now, this video may not be the same as acting on a Broadway stage, but it takes a great deal of bravery to get up in front of your friends to perform like this.

6. He’ll Make New Friends

A Scout is Friendly is a point of the Scout Law, but Cub Scouts learn to make friends. In Cub Scouts, the kids from the country get to meet and play with kids from the big city. As they get older in the program and go to more events, they more they’ll meet.

Through scouting I’ve made friends from all over the country, and all over the world. In the course of my time in Scouting I’ve made friends from all over the country, and all over the world. One year on camp staff I roomed with an exchange scout from Egypt. The biggest thing you get isn’t how different people are, but how similar they are. Sure, the climate and landscape of Egypt and Connecticut are different. The cultures are vastly different – but Shicco was amazing at working with the kids. He also got a lot of text messages from his friends who I don’t think realized he was on the other side of the world, so his phone buzzed at 3 a.m. rather often.

When you’re six, your world is pretty small. You know your family, your friends, your teachers, and the kids at school. And that’s about it. But through Scouting you can meet people you otherwise would never come in contact with. You’ll get to realize that while, sure, there are lots of things that make us different, at the end of the day, we’re more similar than we aren’t.

While in school he may learn about other countries, but it’s a far different experience to actually meet them.

5. He’ll Lose at Pinewood Derby (And Build Character)

Cub Scouts build Pinewood Derby Cars with their parents or grandparents. They learn some basic physics. They see that the streamlined car goes faster. That weight distribution on the car matters. But more important than that, they learn sportsmanship. They learn how to be a good loser when things don’t go their way, and a gracious winner when they do.

I jokingly say that physics don’t apply to Pinewood Derby cars. So he’ll learn how to lose, and try again next year. In life, lots of things go wrong. Some of them we can control, and some are beyond our control – but either way, we need to be able to deal with it, and move forward.

From failure, we learn resilience. We learn to keep trying. We learn from our mistakes, and we learn that some things are the end of the world… and some things are not.

Scouting is a safe place to fail – and more importantly, to learn from that failure to succeed.


4. It’s Remarkably Safe

The Boy Scouts of America has a remarkable record of safety and abuse prevention. Their Youth Protection Policies work. No adult is ever one-on-one with a child that is not their own. Every leader undergoes a full background check when they register. Each and every leader is required to complete Youth Protection Training every two years – and you can take that training online yourself right now.

There’s a whole guide to tell leaders what activities the kids should and should not be doing, and at what age – that you can read yourself. Leaders are required to complete specific training before they take youth on outings, and it’s not just specific to the activity, but to the age of the youth. There’s a vast difference between taking a 7-year-old and a 17-year-old camping.

3. They’ll Get Great Role Models

You might be the most impressive person on Earth, but in this mortal coil, we are limited. Everybody’s good at something, but nobody’s good at everything. Through scouting, your child can meet (and learn from) adults from all walks of life.

It’s amazing the range of volunteers you find in Scouting. It may not be obvious at first (because the leaders are usually in uniform), but you can have lawyers and business leaders, construction workers and farmers all leading the same Pack. They’ll get to see great examples of productive people, and community leadership.

But it will be in an informal, silly, and comfortable environment. They’ll see that the firefighter they look up to isn’t all that different from them. At some point, they’ll make the connection that the people they look up to used to be just like them.


2. Cub Scouts is Fun

Cub Scouts giggle. A lot. The one thing you can be sure to see at just about any Cub meeting you go to is kids having fun.

I’ve always thought of Cub Scouts as a big magic trick. A good magician shows you what he wants you to see while hiding what they’re actually doing from view. This is how your grandfather made the quarter appear behind your ear.

The kids see the fun. They see the games. They see the pinewood derby cars, the rockets, the hikes, the swimming, and the other activities. What they don’t realize until later is what they were actually learning. Character. Citizenship. Fitness. Self-confidence. Empathy. Leadership.

They just think they’re having fun.

1. Cub Scouts will Improve His Life

It will prepare him for life. A Tufts University study tracked over 2,000 scouts and non-scouts in the Philadelphia area over the course of two-and-a-half years and studied the changes in their behavior and their attitudes. They did this so that they could control for the attitudes and values of the young people over the course of the study – to counter the argument that “Scouting merely attracts better young people instead of helping make them.”

The study found that scouts had huge increases when compared to non-scouts when it came to cheerfulness, kindness, hopeful future expectations, trustworthiness, helpfulness, and obedience. Scouts in the survey were more likely to respond with answers like “helping others” or “doing the right thing.”

The study shows us that the program actually does what it claims to do. It does improve lives. It does build character. The values that Scouting teaches actually do improve the lives of young people. As it turns out, repeating and reflecting on the values contained in the Scout Oath and Law has an impact.

The point of Cub Scouting is not to make the world’s best 9-year-old, though that’s a nice side-effect. The point is to prepare them to have well-rounded, successful lives.

To find a pack near you for your son, go to

If you didn’t see your favorite reason, feel free to list it below.

Scouting units and districts, please feel free to copy this material for your website, I just ask that you link to the original when doing so. Thanks.



Posted by Mike Cooney in Grow Your Group, Marketing, Scouting, Volunteering, 1 comment
GaGa Ball – What Is It and Where Did It Come From?

GaGa Ball – What Is It and Where Did It Come From?

If you’ve been to a scout camp in the last four years or so, you’ve probably seen kids playing a lot of GaGa Ball. It’s been the hit of our day camp for the past five years, and it seems like the pit at every resident camp I’ve visited is in near constant use. There’s even a “Gaga Center” on 93rd Street in New York City.

It’s a great game that will keep kids moving, and entertained for hours. It’s painfully simple to learn, and as kids play, they’ll start to develop strategies. Teenagers can play a fast, exciting physical style, and yet the game can be played effectively by kids as young as four or five.


The Origins of GaGa Ball

According to Stephen Silver of Tablet Magazine, the inventor of Gaga Ball is Steven Steinberg. Steinberg was a 17-year-old camp counselor at a JCC camp in Maryland, Camp Milldale.

One rainy day in 1975, Steinberg took the six-year-olds in his care to a covered, wall-less shelter. There they started playing a “form of dodgeball”. In order to stop the ball from rolling down a nearby hill, he laid some benches along the sides to contain the ball. And Gaga Ball was born?

And what about the name? Gaga Ball? It’s been said in some places that it’s from “touch touch” in Hebrew, but according to Steinberg, it isn’t quite so cultural. Apparently, during a moment of frustration with the children, he called his six-year-old charges, “a bunch of babies”, and they responded by making baby sounds. Goo goo, ga ga.

The name stuck. And when the activity became scheduled, it was written down as “ga-ga.”


Gaga Ball Rules

While the rules seem to vary by location, here are a set of “official rules” according to the Gaga Center in New York, here:

  • All players start with one hand touching a wall of the pit.
  • The game begins with a referee throwing the ball into the center of the pit.
  • When the ball enters the pit, the players scream ‘GA’ for the first two bounces, and ‘GO’ on the third bounce, after which the ball is in action.
  • Once the ball is in play, any player can hit the ball with an open or closed hand.
  • If a ball touches a player below the knee (even if the player hits himself or herself) he or she is out and leaves the pit. If a player is hit above the knees, the play continues.
  • Using the walls of the octagon to aid in jumping is legal as long as the player does not permanently sit on the ledge of the octagon.
  • If a ball is caught on a fly, the player who hit the ball is out.
  • Players cannot hold the ball.
  • If needed, a second ball can be thrown in the pit to expedite the end of the game. The last player standing is the winner of that round.

Making Your Own Pit

So, if you’ve got the time and a suitable permanent location, you can build your own Gaga pit. You’ll just need twelve 2x12x16′ boards, six 1x6x12′ boards, sixteen 3″ hinges, and two pounds of 2″ deck screws. And some tools. And it would help to be a much, much better carpenter than I am. But if you this kind of person, or you know somebody who is, you can find a complete set of instructions at


Or… you can buy an inflatable portable one

As you can see below, Gaga pits are on the expensive side. Probably out of the price range for most packs. But if you’re a council or district representative, you might want to look into investing in one. I know of at least one council that has one and lends it out to packs and troops as needed. They’re great for joining night activities.

The nice thing about it is that it’s portable and relatively easy to set up. It’s a little on the heavy side, but a couple of adults should be able to maneuver it. You will need an outlet to power the pump.


Photo by Camp Pinewood YMCA

See larger image

Additional Images:

Gaga Ball Pit

Easy and quick to inflate, this portable Gaga Ball Pit is a huge hit with kids and adults. Interior playing area of 15′ x 15′, this Gaga Ball Pit entertains lots of people for hours. When the game is over, it stows away neatly and frees up the space for other activities. The FunAir Gaga Ball Pit is made with top quality materials and workmanship and backed by a 1 year limited warranty. Includes 2 FunAir Gaga Balls, FunAir electric pump, PVC repair kit and manual pump for inflating the ball.
New From:$2,495.00 USD In Stock

Posted by Mike Cooney in Grow Your Group, Scouting, 0 comments
August Recruiting Checklist: 5 Things to Do Right Now

August Recruiting Checklist: 5 Things to Do Right Now

Your Recruiting Checklist

This Tuesday is August 1st. Great recruiting campaigns are made and broken with what you do in early August. What you do right now will determine whether you’ve got a full room come at your joining night in September, or whether you’re going to be lonely, wondering what went wrong. To help you out, here’s a quick recruiting checklist of things you need to get done in early August to make you successful.


Get your Recruiting Date Set

This is the big one. Everything else flows from getting this done. Like yesterday. Getting the date, time and location of your recruiting event set now lets you print your marketing materials, and set up your Facebook event. You’ll also want to make sure you’ve communicated this information to your council, as they will get calls from families in your area looking to join.

So now is the time to finalize your building reservations. Make sure you’ve reviewed all the relevant local calendars (School calendar, PTO, School Athletics, Chamber of Commerce, etc.) Also, make sure to check it against your council and district calendars.



Secure School Approvals

Now is the time to stop by all the schools you recruit from and have the important conversations. How many flyers are you going to need? How do they want flyers bundled? Who needs to approve them?

Will they let you do a school recruiting talk, and can you schedule it now?

Do you have your plan set for school open houses? Who’s going to be staffing them and what are they going to be handing out?


Compose your Marketing Plan

Have you designed your flyer yet? What about your posters? Have they been printed? What about business cards? Now is the time to get those things squared away.

Do you know where in town you’re going to hang those flyers and posters?

What about yard signs? Do you know where you’re going to put those?

Have you got marketing tables set up, and the places to do them? Are there any town fairs, carnivals, or any other big public gatherings where could get you a lot of exposure?

Have you got a list of all the newspapers, radio and TV stations that you’re going to send press releases to? Have you started working on your press releases?


And your Social Media Plan

It’s 2017. You need a social media plan. If you’re going to do a paid Facebook ad campaign, you’ll want to start planning it now.

If you’re going to do an organic Facebook campaign, have you made a checklist of all the big Facebook groups in your town? Have you set up your Facebook event, and asked ALL the families in your pack to invite any potential scouting families they know?

It’s also time for councils to get their free Google AdWords campaigns set up.


Update Your Be A Scout Pin

Make sure your pin is updated. You can find instructions here on just how to do that.


Photo by AJC1

Posted by Mike Cooney in Grow Your Group, Marketing, Scouting, Social Media, 1 comment
An Eagle Scout Letter from Bill Belichick

An Eagle Scout Letter from Bill Belichick

I’ve been to a lot of Eagle Ceremonies. Probably hundreds. It’s customary for dignitaries to write letters to Eagle Scouts. Eagles get letters of congratulations from current and former US Presidents. They get them from members of Congress, governors, mayors, and state legislators. Mike Rowe’s Eagle Scout Letter is quite popular. But for the most part, they’re pretty standard. Generally, the boy’s parents or the leadership in the troop writes away to people the boy admires to request the congratulatory letter.

Sometimes all you have to do is ask. Bryan on Scouting has a great article on how to request Eagle Letters. But every once in a while, you see one that sticks out. This one came across my Facebook feed tonight from a very proud mom.

An Eagle Scout Letter from Bill Belichick

New Eagle Scout Adam Tripplett got one he’ll certainly never forget. His mom Cheryl went big. She wrote to Coach Bill Belichick requesting an Eagle Scout letter.

Recently, Adam completed his Eagle Project. He raised money to provide a local Veteran’s Home with exercise equipment (also building a jump box) for rehabilitating servicemen. He also installed a flag pole and solar light in the front yard; and if that wasn’t enough, he created new doors for an old storage shed out back to keep the equipment and weight set in. With the remaining funds, he bought them a grill and grilling utensils. That’s an impressive project, to say the least.

So Cheryl included a description of his project in her letter to the coach. She let Belichick know what a big fan Adam was, and put an Eagle sticker on the outside of the envelope. And dropped it in the mail, to:

Bill Belichick
Gillette Stadium
1 Patriot Place
Foxboro, MA 02035-1388

And two a half weeks later, they got the letter below back in the mail from Patriot Place and the Five-Time Super Bowl winning coach.

As with anything, you never know what you’ll get, until you ask. So the next time you’re getting ready for that next Eagle Ceremony in the troop, think a little bit outside the box and see who you can get.


bill belichick eagle scout letter



Belichick Photo by Keith Allison

Posted by Mike Cooney in Grow Your Group, Scouting, Social Media, 0 comments
Rest in Peace, June Foray

Rest in Peace, June Foray

June Foray passed away yesterday. She was 99. She would have been 100 this September. 99% of people have no idea who she was. Admit it. You didn’t – and there’s absolutely no shame in that.

None. And why would you? She very rarely ever appeared on camera, and her main audience was comprised of children on a show that aired almost 60 years ago.

I did. But that’s hardly something to brag about. Makes me great at trivia competitions, but pays off in very few other ways.

But it’s more likely than not she had a little impact on your life. She was the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel (and Natasha Fatale) on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. And the voice of Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. She was also the voice of Nell on The Dudley Do-Right Show. And the voice of Granny on The Bugs Bunny Show. She was in everything from Garfield and Friends, to Weird Science to Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

She was Jokey Smurf. Foray even showed up as Grandma Fa in Mulan.

Whether you knew it or not, you’ve been listening to Miss Foray’s voice for as long as you can remember. She was in all the cartoons my dad liked (Rocky and Bullwinkle, Bugs Bunny) – and in ones he really didn’t (the Smurfs, etc.)

My four-year-old son likes Rocky and Bullwinkle.

She had 308 credits over a career that started as the voice of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in The Egg Cracker Suite to this Rocky and Bullwinkle short in 2014.

So Why Am I Writing About June Foray Here?

Because it got me thinking. I think “unsung hero” is probably a bit of an overstatement when it comes to someone doing the voices for cartoon characters, but she certainly made a positive impact. Take a second to think about all the people who’ve made an impact on your life that you’ve never had the chance to meet, or thank? People who did much less glamorous work than June Foray.

When we take our kids to camp, how often do we think about the people who took the initiative to build the camp? The people who raised the money to purchase all the building materials? The workers who poured the concrete for the dining hall? The volunteers who cleared the trails? It’s not that we don’t thank these people, we take their work completely for granted.

Have you ever moved a summer camp tent platform? Those things are extraordinarily heavy. We don’t think that the camp staff showed up long before anyone else did to get camp set up. This usually involves setting up hundreds of tents, carrying heavy bunks, and mattresses on hot, sweaty days. It’s usually done by 16-year-olds on the first working days of their lives.

We don’t think that the program planning started months and in some cases years before that.

The most of us, the camp is just there. To the kids, it just happens.

What about the people who print the recruiting flyers that got the kids to the joining night in the first place? Or the person who designed the flyers or printed them? Or delivered them to the school in the first place and did the Boy Talk? Someone sat down to figure out how many kids would need flyers in the first place. And hardly anyone ever takes the time to thank the registrars in the office who have to type in all of these applications by hand.

Thankless Jobs

There are thousands of moving parts and people that it takes to make these things happen. And most of them go nameless, and just about always, it’s thankless. You’re probably just as likely to have known who June Foray was as to be able to name a lot of the people who help make these great programs happen. There are whole categories of jobs I haven’t even referred to that are absolutely vital to a successful program.

So, as you’re enjoying your summer program, take a few minutes to think about some of the behind-the-scenes people whose work helps us all, and even better…

Thank them.

Photo by voicechasers

Posted by Mike Cooney in Grow Your Group, Scouting, 0 comments
Generous People Are All Around You.
A Webelos Scout volunteers to help package meals for hungry children.

Generous People Are All Around You.

It’s really tempting to be cynical. Especially when watching the news. There’s a lot of negativity out there. It’s easy to think the world is filled with wicked people. And to be frank, some of them are. But they’re a small minority. The encouraging thing is generous people are all around you.

Generous People

Two-thirds of Americans make some sort of charitable donation every single year. The average American household gives almost $1,900 a year to nonprofit organizations. And product sales aren’t counted in that figure, so that box of Boy Scout popcorn or Girl Scout cookies isn’t counted – and that’s a huge chunk of revenue for those organizations. Private philanthropy amounted to $258 billion in 2014.

I suppose it’s really hard to really grasp just how generous people are until you’ve actually gotten yourself in the trenches and done some fundraising. The biggest fear of every new fundraiser is that everyone’s going to say “no,” right away. And then they don’t. You find people giving perhaps more than you think they should to causes they believe in.

And this country has a great history of philanthropy. People have been working together to solve problems through organizations like this for well over a hundred years.

Seeing is Believing

I think if you haven’t actually stood in front of a room full of strangers and asked them for money to support a cause you all believe in – and had them actually say, “yes,” it can be tough to believe that such a thing would happen. But I can tell you that it does happen, every day, in towns all over the country.

And these donors aren’t usually seeking any recognition for their gifts. Most gifts are made quietly. People like donating money to causes they care deeply about. Helping other people makes us feel good about ourselves. Whether it be running a marathon for charity, organizing a golf tournament, or just pulling out a checkbook – we like the feeling we get from doing good.

I look forward to the Jimmy Fund Telethon every year, to hear the amazing success stories in the fight against cancer in children. The Jimmy Fund is a Boston-based charity which raises money for research and care for children with cancer at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Everyone who knows someone who’s been lost to cancer. Everyone. That people are donating to such a worthy cause shouldn’t take anyone by surprise. The work they do at Dana Farber is a benefit to humanity.

And there are so many other organizations doing work like this.

It’s easy to think everyone around you is greedy in the abstract. But when you really start breaking it down and listening to the stories of what people are actually doing, you start to see how generous people actually are – and that’s pretty wonderful.

Generous With Their Time

But these philanthropy figures only count monetary donations. It doesn’t count the value of volunteer labor hours. About 25% of Americans do some sort of volunteer work every year. That’s almost 63 million people. The average volunteer gives about 32 hours of their time. That works out to about 8 billion hours of volunteer time a year – worth an estimated $184 billion.

You know it’s a good joke when it has its own patch (eBay Photo)

For example, each week this summer at Scout camps all over this country, scout volunteers are giving up their vacation time to make sure kids get a great program. Over the winter, they camping in sub-zero temperatures. That’s a special level of dedication that has to be seen to be believed. They spend their own money purchasing supplies. They make donations to cover the administrative costs of the program.

The biggest joke in Scouting is that volunteering is “only one hour a week” – but they all know it’s more than that. While they lightheartedly complain, they still do it; and they do it with enthusiasm.

And while you can say, “sure, but this is for their own kids.” But there are so many volunteers who stay around long after their own kids have aged out of the program.

We have no right to take these generous people for granted – but should rather look at them in awed amazement.

Still More Groups

Rotarians meet every week for lunch all over the world. Their donations and willpower have nearly led to the eradication of polio. But they do more than that. They raise money for projects like buying coats for kids in the winter. They volunteer their time in community service project after community service project.

Through volunteer labor, Habitat for Humanity improved the living conditions of three million people in 2016 alone, either by building new homes or fixing up existing ones. These are regular people giving up their time to swing a hammer or lift a board.

generous people - habitat for humanity volunteers photo

State Farm employees volunteer with Habitat for Humanity Photo by State Farm

And I could list off organization after organization that does things exactly like this in different fields. I could run through Lions Clubs, Elks Clubs, or Moose Lodges, just to name a few. There are American Legions or VFW’s, and this hasn’t gotten to the volunteer work that people do through their churches and faith-based groups. And there are so many others. And there are new ones starting up every day.

So, if you’re tempted to be cynical, please take a good look at the amazing things being done by regular people in this country. People who do so not for pay but because it’s the right thing to do. Not because someone’s threatening them with a gun in the ribs if they don’t, but because they want the world to be a better place.

Can we be thankful for that?

Feature Photo by Feed My Starving Children (FMSC)


Posted by Mike Cooney in Grow Your Group, Scouting, Volunteering
7 Life Skills You Learn from Backpacking

7 Life Skills You Learn from Backpacking

One of my favorite Scout leaders passed away last month. He could be a little gruff – in a good way. If the troop hadn’t been backpacking in a while, he’d notice that the boy’s discipline on campouts would start to break down a little. They’d take a little longer to get going in the morning. “We haven’t hiked them in too long,” he’d say.

He was right, of course. There’s a lot to be said for summer camp and you can learn quite a bit at a Scout meeting or a campout. But there’s something about a backpacking trek that just can’t be duplicated anywhere.

Backpacking experiences are life-changing. When you get back you see the world differently. You see yourself differently. There are things you can learn on the trail, and nowhere else. These are things that can’t be taught. They have to be experienced and learned. I can tell you about what it’s like to put your foot on the summit, but until you actually do it for yourself, you can’t understand.

Backpacking teaches Goal Setting

mount washington summit photo

Summits are easily identifiable goals. Photo by Willeke_igkt

Mountains are wonderfully clarifying things. When you set off to climb a mountain, the summit is an easily identifiable goal.

You know you have to keep hiking until you reach the summit. Getting to the summit is a success, anything less is a failure. And you’re not competing against anyone but yourself, and I suppose, the mountain.

But you can’t climb a mountain in one step. It’s a series of little victories. Get to the end of each section of trail. Pick a tree in the distance, and hike to it, and when you get to it, pick another tree – until there are no more trees.

Then go for the summit.

Getting to the summit always gives you an amazing feeling of accomplishment. You’ve set yourself a goal, and you’ve met it – and you’re literally on top of the world.

When I used to be an instructor for Camping Merit Badge, we’d always make the last requirement the one where the scout would have to “Hike up a mountain where, at some point, you are at least 1,000 feet higher in elevation from where you started.”

When they reached the summit, I’d shake their hand, and congratulate them on completing the badge.

And when I proposed to my now-wife, I did so on the summit of Mount Cardigan in New Hampshire. Because while the summit of a mountain is a goal, it lets you see for miles, and lets you see all the other goals you have still in front of you.


Appreciating Nature

I live in Eastern Connecticut, which I think is one of the prettier parts of the globe. It’s hilly, but not mountainous. So you don’t get the amazing views you get from summiting a mountain.  You don’t get to look down on a cloud. There’s a perspective about the world you can only get from a mountaintop, where you can see for hundreds of miles in every direction, and see the curvature of the Earth all around you.

You can see the trailhead you started from, and you realize that even though it’s a great big world, you can get just about anywhere if you keep going forward, and don’t give up.

mount washington photo

You can’t get an education like this in a classroom. Photo by InAweofGod’sCreation


The temptation is always there to stop. To find a comfortable spot on the side of the trail, and take a nap. (I must admit, some of the rocks on the Appalachian Trail are extremely comfortable, napping-wise.)

But you aren’t going to get to the summit by napping. You aren’t going to get to your goals in life by taking constant breaks and hoping something comes along. Nobody’s going to carry you to the summit, and there’s never a bus when you need one. You need to rely on yourself and prove to yourself that you can keep going.

And you have to keep your stuff together. You only have so much daylight to get from where you are now to where you’re sleeping tonight, and if it’s 15 miles, you’d better get a move on. No time for messes. Dawdling in the morning doesn’t cut it.


When hiking alone, or in small groups, you wind up with a lot of quiet time. The distractions are all gone, and you’re left alone with your thoughts. It’s a wonderfully clarifying thing, especially for young people in an age of nearly constant stimulation. Hiking leads pretty naturally to reflection and self-contemplation.

I find, even now, that my best life choices aren’t made sitting on the couch, but on a hiking trail.

You also learn that you if you’re quiet, and you pay attention, you’ll see a whole lot more. As Yogi Berra once said, “you can observe a lot by watching.”

When I was a kid, I was always amazed at how my dad always managed to see so many animals while we were walking in the woods. Now that I have kids of my own, I find myself pointing out the animals to them.

Backpacking teaches Planning and Self-Reliance

What do you really need when you go camping? How do you pack your backpack for efficiently to make sure you’re as comfortable as possible, whilst keeping your pack under 70 pounds? Do you need three magazines? How many pairs of socks do you actually need?

You learn each time you go what you need, and what you don’t need. Good socks are a must, but you can probably leave the Dutch Oven at home.

Have you got enough water for the trail? Can you get water along the way, or do you need to need to fill your bottles for the journey? Will you need a water filtration system?

When it comes to life, the specifics are all different, but the thought process is the same. A wise man once said, “planning is the art of living the experience in advance.”

Another just said, “Be Prepared.”

Perseverance and Character

Hiking is difficult. It’s challenging to carry 40 or 50 pounds on your back up a mountain, even for the fittest among us.  And the only way to get there is to keep going, keep moving, keep pushing forward. Whatever happens in life, like on the trail, you have no real choice but to keep moving forward.

satisfied hiker photo

Photo by Ken Lund

You learn a great deal about yourself by challenging yourself. I honestly think that if I hadn’t completed my first 50-miler through the White Mountains of New Hampshire as a teenager, I would have dropped out of college during my sophomore year. But if I could survive on the trail with a 50-pound pack, that I knew could manage in Boston.

Of all the great treks I’ve ever done in Scouting, my favorite may have been the one in which everything went wrong. We were climbing a mountain in western Connecticut. We’d done it a few years before, so we thought we knew the trail pretty well. Unfortunately, the school that owned the trailhead had cut a few more trails in the intervening years – and our maps were outdated (ah, the time before Google.)

A little while after lunch we reached the mountain’s summit. We took out our maps to see how much further we had to go to get to our campsite. To our great dismay, we noticed that none of the landmarks seemed to be where they were supposed to be on our map.

We had climbed the wrong mountain. And there was no trail between us and our campsite.

So the 12 scouts and four leaders had to navigate through a few miles of dense, even undergrowth. It was hard work, but none of the kids complained. They worked together, helped each other, and were even making jokes along the way. I’ve never been prouder of a group than I was of those boys that day.

And this group of teenagers was all asleep before 5 pm.


Once you get past the initial shock of backpacking and it starts to become fun, trails become puzzles. How are you going to get across this stream? Where do you put your feet on this rocky part of the trail?

How do you react when your equipment breaks? What do you do someone in your group breaks an ankle?

All manner of unforeseen challenges come up on the trail. Being prepared isn’t just about having the right stuff in your pack, but being mentally ready when everything goes to seed.

Of course, the biggest challenges in life don’t come when we’re backpacking, but in our regular lives.

It’s what we learn on the trail that gets us ready for them.

Posted by Mike Cooney in Grow Your Group, Scouting
The Campfire Defender Keeps Your Fire Safe and Contained

The Campfire Defender Keeps Your Fire Safe and Contained

Campfires are useful and fun. They keep us warm, cook our food, and give us light. But they can also be dangerous, and susceptible to the weather. That’s where the “Campfire Defender” comes in.

It’s a campfire management tool – essentially a fireproof tarp you stake down over your fire. And it allows you to control your fire in ways you couldn’t before.

So let’s say you’ve had a great evening campfire, but now it’s time for bed, and to be responsible you need to douse your campfire. This leaves you with two problems in the morning. One, you need to restart your fire, and two, your fire pit is still wet from the night before. The campfire defender solves both of these problems, safely. Instead of dousing your fire, you cover it securely. The vents in the blanket allow the fire to get air but don’t allow any sparks to escape.

In the morning, you’ll have a much easier time getting your fire going again from the dry coals. Just take off the tarp, add some more fuel to your coals, and you’ll have a fire in no time.

It’s also a great tool for protecting your fire from the rain, wind, or snow. Most campfires will probably withstand a light drizzle, but be extinguished by a downpour. This obviously will put a damper on your attempts to cook on that fire. The campfire defender solves this problem. It also can help you control dangerous flying embers.

It’s also got the nice feature of being a heat reflector that can be used to deflect the heat from small fires.

The Campfire Defender in Action

It comes in two versions. The “lite” version weighs about four pounds and covers an area 34 inches by 30 inches. The “pro” version weighs 16 pounds and covers an area 68 inches by 60 inches.

Products from

For more camping recommendations, check out our guide to summer camp essentials for new leaders.

Posted by Mike Cooney in Grow Your Group, Scouting
Treasure Valley Camp Staff Goes the Extra Mile

Treasure Valley Camp Staff Goes the Extra Mile

Here’s a story that’s not going to make the front page of the paper. It’s not going to lead the evening news. But it says everything about what Scouting produces – character. The Treasure Valley Camp Staff went above and beyond the call of duty to help a young Scout.

Troop 159 from Brookfield was attending summer camp at Treasure Valley Scout Reservation in Rutland, Mass. just outside of Worcester. This past Thursday, one of their Tenderfoot scouts, Donald Parkes, a 13-year-old scout with special needs, forgot his bathing suit for his Swimming Merit Badge class. There just wouldn’t be time for him to get back to his site, get his suit, and return to the waterfront to get changed. This would prevent him from completing the final deep dives that he needed to finish off requirement 6 and finish up his badge.

Here’s what Donald would have to do to complete his badge:

6. In water over your head, but not to exceed 10 feet, do each of the following:

a. Use the feet first method of surface diving and bring an object up from the bottom.
b. Do a headfirst surface dive (pike or tuck), and bring the object up again.
c. Do a headfirst surface dive to a depth of at least 5 feet and swim underwater for three strokes. Come to the surface, take a breath, and repeat the sequence twice.

The weather on Friday looked like it would prevent Donald from getting back in the water, so the staff suggested he come back that evening to finish up his requirements during the Open Swim after dinner.


All Hands on Deck

Of course, the weather in New England is what it is, so by the time Open Swim came around, the temperature had cooled to 56 degrees. As you can imagine, this greatly reduced the number of people in the water… to just Donald and the hearty staff.

That 13-year-olds can be forgetful is something that camp staffs, leaders, and parents have come to expect. Especially anxious ones nervous about completing a challenging merit badge. So Donald, who had previously forgotten his swim trunks, this time forgot his dry clothing to change back into once he got out of the water.

So his Scoutmaster, Tim Kane ran back to the campsite to get them. Upon his return to the waterfront, Scoutmaster Kane was amazed by what he saw:

“Not only was Donald and his instructor in the cool water, but the entire aquatics staff here was coaching and cheering Donald on from the dock.

“An hour later, Donald earned this Eagle rank required merit badge because of his own perseverance despite his special challenges, and also because of a staff who refused to give up on him.”

These are moments that you feel privileged to get to see at camp. It gives you goosebumps, every time.

The Treasure Valley Camp Staff Comes Through

One doesn’t work on a Boy Scout camp staff to get rich. You do it because you want to make a difference in people’s lives. The Treasure Valley Camp Staff proved that in spades. But these amazing thing is that they don’t surprise us. We expect these things. What this staff did for Donald they’ll do for many other scouts over the summer.

In the end, it was Donald who did the work. He didn’t get any shortcuts to his merit badge. But it was the dedication and encouragement of the camp staff that he and his scout leaders won’t soon forget.

Hopefully, someday, Donald will have a chance to pay it forward and help a younger scout the way he was helped. The biggest lesson learned at Browning Pond had little to do with surface dives, and a lot more to do with life.

Mr. Kane put it best, “God Bless Treasure Valley Scout Reservation, our home away from home. Thank You.”




Do you have a great story about Scouts doing amazing things? Send me a message, and I’d love to help you tell their story.

Have a child who would benefit from the Scouting program? Find out more at

Posted by Mike Cooney in Grow Your Group, Scouting, Social Media, Volunteering