The first in a series designed to help Scout families, Scouts, and those new to Scouting better understand what Scouting is, how it works, and how to get the most out of the experience. Written by Paul Shrode, Bay-Lakes Council Family Friends of Scouting Chair, Member of the Board of Directors and Gathering Waters District Chair.
Units, Districts, Councils: Where Do I Fit In? I’m So Confused!
Scouting has been around in our area for more than a century, yet most Scouts and their families couldn’t identify the district of which they are a part, how a district is different from a council, and how our council relates to the larger Scouting organization in America. Don’t worry, you are not alone if you are sometimes confused; we are all here to support your Scouting experience.
Let’s start at the beginning. A Scout is a member of a unit, and his or her family is part of the Scouting family. A unit can be a Pack, Troop, Venture Crew, Sea Scouts Ship, or Explorer Post. Scouts may join Scouting during elementary school as early as Kindergarten and become part of Cub Scouting. During 5th grade or when a youth turns 11 years old, they become eligible to join Scouts BSA and become part of a troop. Youth may join Scouting at any age and many will join in later elementary grades or during middle or high school years. Packs are organized into age cohorts called Dens, and are open to both boys and girls. There are troops for girls and for boys, though unlike Cub Scouting, girls and boys are not members of the same troop. Troops are organized into Patrols, usually with youth of mixed ages in each. Troops are led by the Scouts with the support of adult leaders. Scouts “age out” of troops at 18 years old. Sea Scouts, Venturing Crews and Exploring Posts are open to youth age 14 or having completed 8th grade and offer more high adventure and career focused programming for older youth to the age of 21 years. These units are co-ed. A Scout can be a member of more than one unit simultaneously with no additional membership fee and many Scouts are members of both troops and crews or posts.
Each unit is chartered by a community organization, business, faith community or school. The organization is responsible to provide meeting space, recruit adult leadership, and provide support as needed. The Charter Organization receives a charter from the Boy Scouts of America and must renew that Charter annually. This is where the term “rechartering” comes from. Each unit must renew its charter at the end of the calendar year. The charter renewal provides authorization to continue in Scouting, grants access to records, files, training and resources, and provides insurance protection. To the unit and its members. All fees paid through charter renewal go to the National Council of the BSA to cover insurance, program resource development, record keeping, background checks for adult leaders, and operation of Scouting in America. Neither our council nor our districts collect or charge annual membership fees.
The units within a geographic area are organized into Districts. There are eight Districts in the Bay-Lakes Council, and each is managed by a volunteer committee which organizes Roundtables for adult leaders, outings and activities for youth, volunteer training, promotes new member recruitment, assists units with administrative functions, facilitates Scout advancement toward the rank of Eagle, and facilitates communication between families, units, unit leaders, and the Council. A special group of District volunteers serves as Unit Commissioners, assigned to support and mentor unit leaders.
The Bay-Lakes Council is one of 272 local councils and receives an annual Charter from the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America. It is an independent, non-profit organization governed by a volunteer board of directors and employs a staff of professionals to serve each district, manage and operate camp properties and programs, maintain a service center, and secure the resources required to support units, adult volunteers and Scout families throughout the Council. The nation is divided into regions and areas, and our Bay-Lakes Council lies within the Central Region, Area One. Our council stretches from an area north of Milwaukee through Eastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, from the lakeshore to as far west as the Waupaca area.
So, where do you fit in? As a Scout and Scouting family, you are the primary reason for all of this, the fundamental stakeholders in the success of Scouting, and the focus of all of the volunteer and staff effort. Your questions, comments and suggestions are always welcome! So, now you know!

Paul Shrode