The latest 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. For past articles, see back issues of The Guide.

A Bridge Too Far?

As Webelos cross that bridge to join their new units symbolizing a right of passage and life transition, some do not cross over and continue on in Scouting. Of course, there are many reasons why a youth may not wish to continue in Scouting, but it is incumbent upon all of us to help guide their decisions and if at all possible, retain them so they may continue their Scouting journey and gain the full benefits of character development, leadership and Scouting skills training, and above all fellowship with others who strive to live lives of principle guided by the values of the Scout Oath and Law. There are many Scouts BSA units in our Council, each with its own culture, traditions and character. The unit chosen by many or most of the other Scouts in the Webelos II Den might not be a good fit for a particular youth. We encourage each Webelos to visit several troops for a reason, and if a Scout doesn’t find a fit among those visited by the Den, the search should continue. Parents, Den Leaders and Pack leadership should work with those Scouts who have not found a good fit to make sure they have seen many options. It is possible that the first impression gained by attending a meeting or activity may not provide a full picture. If a Scout decides with the help of his or her parents that continuing on is not right, it is important that we both respect that decision and support the Scout, reminding him or her that membership in Scouting is open and they can jump in whenever they are interested and ready. The point is that we need to help all of our Scouts to see the other side of the bridge, that it is not a bridge too far!

Scouts BSA units have an important role to play in retention as well. Extending a welcoming hand to Webelos as they visit, including these potential members fully in troop activities as they decide whether to cross that bridge, and providing good information to parents and guardians about troop activities, culture, and expectations for membership can help recruit and retain members. Providing Den Chiefs to Packs, holding Activity Pin sessions, inviting Packs to participate in fun “normal friend activities” of the troop can also help Webelos with their decisions. Troop leaders, both adult and youth should engage in building relationships with Pack leadership. Working together, we can provide the opportunities of Scouting more fully to our youth and hopefully retain them so they can obtain the full benefits of their involvement.

It is a long-standing tenet of business and institutions that it is easier to retain a customer than to recruit a new one. That is most certainly true of Scouting. All of us need to pay attention to those youth in our ranks, to make sure they have a positive and fulfilling experience. We need to provide a high quality program of activities and outings, an environment in which they can achieve and learn, a support system that makes Scouting accessible to each and every one of them. Scouts need more than peer relationships and a series of rank advancement challenges; they need to know that they matter to us, that we are glad they are part of our Scouting family, and that they are growing and succeeding through Scouting. Let’s take a second look at those Scouts who decide not to continue on in Scouting, both Webelos who may not cross over, and all of those who may not recharter at the end of the year. Perhaps by reaching out, listening, and helping them to find a path toward what would entreat them to continue on, we can extend a hand across that bridge and help them across.

Thank you once again for entrusting your youth to Scouting and sharing your time, talent and treasure. In all that we do, let us not forget that Scouting is really for our youth, for their life-shaping, life-changing Scouting experience.

Paul Shrode