Cub Scouting: Summer/Fall Touchpoints for Commissioners

John Hughes, Council Commissioner, Northern New Jersey Council

Most of you are aware that strengthening Cub Scouting is currently one of the major priorities for the Boy Scouts of America.

Nationally, in the year 2003, we lost 27% of the Cub Scouts who joined in 2002. We must do better. We know from our research that the major reasons Cub Scouts drop out early is because of boring den meetings and dens and packs which meet infrequently ... and it is commissioners who can best help packs improve their program.

In 2003 we also dropped 9% of our registered Cub Packs. Most of those packs obviously needed special attention ... and it's commissioners who can best help packs resolve life-threatening problems.

These figures are reflective of the drop that we are experiencing in our own Council.

A couple of disclaimers: Northern New Jersey Council is comprised of the four northeastern counties of the State of New Jersey. If you watch the Sopranos you are familiar with the locale. But although we service the tight urban centers of New Jersey: Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Passaic, Union City, Hackensack, we also serve from the suburban areas of Bergen County to the rural areas of West Milford in Passaic. Each of our twelve districts is unique and together embrace all the diversity that we face nationally in Scouting today.

Although I have been Council Commissioner of the Northern New Jersey Council for the last four years and although I have been honored to have served as a Council President for too many years, my background is Boy Scouting. I have been a scoutmaster for 34 years. I am much more comfortable with the nuances of that program.

However, as a scoutmaster, I recognize the importance of a strong Cub Scout program and as Council Commissioner, I was extremely distressed over the declines in our own Council Cub statistics.

So when our National Commissioner Rick Cronk wrote each council commissioner in November and again in March, with a National "call to action" to ask commissioners to make a special visit and review of the program in every pack in America, we took the mission seriously. It is crucial that District Commissioners insure that the Unit Commissioners are taking their role seriously. We must be accountable for our service. Units must be visited and actual evaluations shared at monthly commissioner meetings with the District Commissioner and other Unit Commissioners. Wherever we find packs with less than an effective program, we've been working to help, guide, and encourage those packs to regain an excellent level of service to youth.

So for a few minutes today, let's look at what we can do during the next 5 months. I want to emphasize 5 commissioner touch points.

First, let's be sure that the pack has plans for activities throughout the entire summer. A pack, which has little summer program, often has a weak and boring program come fall.

Packs can earn the National Summertime Pack Award by having three big activities - one each in June, July and August. Dens and individual Cub Scouts earn the award by taking part.

Commissioner guidance and enthusiasm will keep packs meeting over the summer. If you have not already done so, mobilize your people to be sure boys get Cub Scouting all summer.

We have tried to encourage units to plan Big Theme events for the summer. The summer affords great opportunities for units to try activities that are less available during the school year. We of course encourage the unit support of Cub Scout resident camp and day camp; but other activities are available; visits to museums and military sites, minor league baseball games, recreational locations: all can add to the unit's summer program.

If the unit has a summer program, we urge them to do their Tiger recruiting at the end of the school year in the kindergarten classes. This is a huge advantage in getting the children into the program.

Second, be sure each pack plans next year's program, which begins in September. In May or June, each district should begin the process with a big program planning conference to help jump start pack leaders' planning. This may appropriately be accomplished at the Cub Scout Roundtable no later then May. At that event, each pack receives a program planning wall chart, a schedule of all district and council events for the year, and other planning resources. Then the unit commissioner makes sure that the pack has its annual planning conference to establish the year's program based on 12 monthly Cub Scout themes and other special events. You can then measure success when every pack has its year's program planned out before the start of a new program year in September.

Third, have packs tie down now the date and location for their fall joining night. The pack joining night should take place immediately after school starts - that may be as early as August in a lot of communities. Timing is important so that new Cub Scouts can get started early and the pack's September program benefits from the back-to-school enthusiasm. In the case of recruiting nights at schools - usually the ideal location - the pack should set the date NOW before school is out.

Fourth, the commissioner will want to be sure that the pack leaders plan some kind of pack special event to welcome new families, usually in October. It might be a day at the zoo, a barbecue, or nearby day trip. Make it fun, make people feel welcome, and share info with new parents and leaders.

Fifth, make sure the unit commissioner works with the pack trainer in each pack to get all new or untrained leaders out to basic leader training, especially den leaders. We have too often not paid enough attention to the den leaders. These are the people most in need of training. They are directly with the children. We have to keep them enthusiastic and focused. If they get flat, the program will fail.

Incidentally, note that by national board action in February, the pack trainer may now be counted as one of the required number of pack committee persons.

There are obviously other things which a commissioner may need to do this summer and fall to help a pack depending on the needs of the individual pack and the perception of the commissioner, but the five priorities are -

  1. A fun and exciting summertime program
  2. A 12 month pack program plan put on paper
  3. Date and location tied down for the pack's joining night
  4. A special October event to welcome new families
  5. Work with the pack trainer to be sure all leaders are trained, especially den leaders.

Thanks for all that you and your staff are doing to be sure Cub Scouting is the fun, exciting, and dynamic program which kids won't want to miss.