You may not know it yet but last Monday night was historic. In the community room of our local REI a group of interested Scouts, former-Scouts, never-been-Scouts, and their parents met up with some of the adults that decided to start a new troop in our area.
We talked for a little while about the vision for the troop, a little about the timeline of getting started, and then sent the the parents over to talk to the Committee Chair while I talked with the Scouts. We talked for a bit about their past experience in Scouting, and some of the fun things they had done in the past. Before long they were brainstorming ideas of things they would like to do. It turned in to quite a list, and I am proud to say everything on that list is something absolutely doable. Once the PLC is up and running I plan on bringing out the list and seeing how they want to fit it into the calender.
So why would you want to start a Troop instead of joining an existing one?
I don’t know. I can just tell you the route we took that ended up with a brand new charter. Starting a troop is a lot of work, and you can’t do it alone. We have a great group of adults that are committed to creating a boy-led adventure machine that empowers scouts to lead their own troop. Without the buy-in of these other people the idea of a new troop is DOA.
We live in an area with a number of troops within a reasonable driving distance, and like most parents of Webelos, this whole process began with visits to the troops in our area. Some were visits to meetings, others were joining the troops on camping trips. We have some bigger troops in our area (50-100 scouts), and some that are smaller. We have some troops that do parts of the program really well, and some that are more of a power trip for the adults in charge. Side note: if you are in my district and are reading this, that last part was not about your troop. Seriously.
Starting a new troop isn’t necessarily an indictment of other troops in the area. Each one takes on a unique personality, and every scout has different interests. There are backpacking troops, trailer camping troops, troops focused on advancement, troops focused on service. For the same reason that you should visit multiple troops when the scouts are Webelos, you should seek out other options when it becomes evident that the current troop isn’t a good fit for a Scout.
The more troops we visited the more often we talked about starting one. The main reason was to offer an option to scouts that didn’t find a good fit in the existing troops. This new troop wasn’t to replace the others in our area, just to offer another option before they started dropping scouting entirely.
I really wasn’t that keen on starting a troop in the beginning discussions. Why in the world would I want to build something from scratch? That sounds like a lot of work. I asked a lot of questions. I read a lot of stuff. I even went on Clarke’s podcast to discuss it with his Scoutmaster panel on episode 145. The more we talked the less ridiculous it looked. One thing really stuck with me from the podcast: “Starting new units is how Scouting grows.” If this is a program we believe in, growing it should be something we are all working on at some level.
As we moved closer to starting the troop I bought a few more copies of the book “Working the Patrol Method” and gave them out to the people that had expressed an interest helping out. Starting out on the same page, understanding the role of adults in a scout-led troop, and understanding the bigger picture gives us the foundation against which we can measure future structure and activities.
Location, Location, Location
Once we began to discuss the idea of starting a troop, we needed to find a meeting location. Our Charter Org doesn’t have meeting facilities, so we were looking for a good meeting place in our community. The great thing was that we were able to locate it in an area further north and to the west, in an area that BeAScout.org says is not currently served by a Boy Scout troop. There are a few nearby packs that we can help with activites, and a lot of newer subdivisions that have been built out over the last decade. Problem is our new meeting location isn’t completely built yet, so we had to find somewhere else to have the first meeting. Hence the opening reference to the community room at the local REI.
Changing Troop Culture vs. Setting Troop Culture
One thing that was difficult to get straight was the idea of starting from scratch. Even the most dysfunctional troops (again, not really talking about anybody specifically) have an existing structure and organization. That starting point is a big help when you look at all the pieces of a functioning troop. Starting from zero means that all these pieces have to be created for the first time. Talking with local Scoutmaster the other day he told me it took six years to change the troop culture from what he found when he started. Six years of incremental changes to get the unit functioning like the vision. There is always going to be some resistance from those that have already invested years of their time in a unit, and nobody is going to take kindly to the “new guy” coming in and making wholesale changes in the first month. It doesn’t matter how well-intentioned the “new guy” is.
The last thing that sealed the deal was the discussions with potential scouts. The first set was obviously the boys that are in the Webelos den together. We put it out there as an option along with the other choices with the other troops we visited. The answer has been an unequivocal “We want to stay together and we want to help start a new troop.” The next potential scouts we talked to were older boys that have left the scouting program in the last couple years. Talking to them one on one, we discussed what they liked about scouting, why it didn’t work out for them, and then what we had as a vision for this new unit. With enough interest to get started, we worked the paperwork side of things, set up the informational meeting, and invited other families in scouting to join us. The goal wasn’t to “steal” scouts away from existing units, just to let them know about what we were doing so they could join us if they wanted to. Many passed on the opportunity, as they were perfectly happy where they were at. Which is just fine, the goal is to offer scouting to as many boys in our area as possible, not some sort of score of us vs. them with the other troops.
All of this is may sound idealistic and self-congratulatory, but the truth is that the jury is still out as to the success of this venture. We have no idea if this troop is going to end up like we had envisioned it, or if it will even still be around in five, ten, or twenty years. The whole thing is an experiment, and I am sure some of the things are not going to turn out even remotely as planned. But nothing is set in stone, and the best we can do is evaluate, change course, and drive on. Time will tell!