Sunday, February 22, 2009

Making a Successful Webelos to Scout Transitions Program

When I was first approached, by Rod Goldhahn, to take over as the Voyageur District Chairman for the Webelos to Scout Transitions program, I had many initial misgivings. No one had been doing that job for almost 20 yrs. Webelos Woods was no longer a part of the Voyageur District program and worse yet was the news that only 23% of the Webelos in the cub program were actually crossing over to join the boy scouts.
Anything that could be done to improve those numbers would be greatly appreciated and I thought, “Okay, how hard could it be?”
So I accepted the position with a positive attitude and eagerly attacked a virtually dead program and attempted reverse those numbers. I had agreed to get the numbers up within 5 years time or I would step away from the program so that someone else could try to make this a bigger success.
The secret to a successful transition is really no secret at all…there are only a few requirements that are needed and the rest will fall into place.

You will need:

1. A positive attitude
2. Den Chiefs
3. Good communication and great relations with the boy scout troop or troops within neighborhood to where the pack meets.

A Positive Attitude is Everything:

I have found that leaders that have the energy and excitement for the program will infect the scouts with the passion and enthusiasm to continue on within the program. These leaders often will consistently show high advancement numbers, little or no loss in membership numbers, and will be highly active within the district and council activities.
These leaders have learned to eliminate the word “if” and they will always substitute “when” often indicating the expectation of their scouts moving onward to bigger and better things offered at the next level of scouting.
Leaders that use “if” have now just opened a new door for the scout and his families to leave the program before they truly experience what scouting is really about.

For example: I have seen leaders say, “…if you go into the boy scout program you might go canoeing.”
For a scout that isn’t all that interested in the great outdoors, he now will take on a negative feeling about canoeing before he gets the chance to experience the program. So he backs away from the program now that the leader has given him an out.

Now had the leader said, “…when you go into the boy scout program; you will go canoeing, hiking, play sports, learn first aid, etc. etc.”
He now has given the scout several options that are available to him and although one of the items may not be suited for that scout; the others could be.

Den Chiefs: Boy Scouts Untapped Resource

Units that utilize Den Chiefs have a significantly higher number of successful transition scouts than those units that have no Den Chiefs.
The role of the Den Chief is to assist in the program planning with the Den Leaders and help support the pack through their leadership with the cubs.
Den Chiefs are the best visual example a cub leader has to help promote the Boy Scout program. These boy scouts attend most meetings in their uniform and will often be the center of attention when he is wearing a new badge. The Cubs will always ask that the badge is for and he in turn will advertise that specific activity where he received that award.
Den Chiefs are the boy scouts that look to use their role to enhance their leadership skills needed for their rank advancement. They have an interest in helping their younger counterparts advance too.
Many times the Den Chief will get a better read as to what the cubs want to do for activities and can report this to the Den Leaders as they are closer in age with the cubs than the leader is.
Their role as Den Chief is extremely valuable to a leader and all units should carry more than one Den Chief on their roster.

Maximizing the use of Boy Scout Troops:

Pack units that have a great working relationship with a Boy Scout unit will not usually have a difficult time with encouraging Webelos to join the boy scouts.
Often, the troop will assist the pack with leading the cubs through some of the rank advancement activities and will often encourage them to go family camping, or just being available to assist with the pack’s opening and closing ceremonies.
Most often a Scout master of a unit will help with planning and the execution of specific tasks that might be unfamiliar with the cub leaders at that point in time. These leaders serve as advisors to the Pack leaders and will only help to enhance the quality program that each scout deserves.
Units that do not have the advantage having a good relationship will always struggle with their transitions program and most of those scouts will never see the Boy Scout program unless the parents have been through it for themselves.
Keeping an open door policy between the pack and the troop is a two way street and the communication between the units must flow in both directions. The Cub master and scout master must know that the other is thinking and will compromise frequently to ensure that all are on the same page so nothing is left to chance.
Troop leaders that dictate to the Cub leaders will often make the pack volunteers feel intimidated or under appreciated and will ultimately make the pack sever ties with the Boy Scout troop however unintentional that intimidation is.
Pack leaders need to understand that the troop leaders are more seasoned with the program and will listen to the advice before jumping to conclusions which may have a detrimental effect on the program over time.
It has been my experience that the best leaders of units with the best transition rates place emphasis on the boys and will always check their egos at the door.
It should not matter where the transition scout goes within the Boy Scout program but what does matter is that the scout goes in the program.
I have watched, Scout master Wayne Gunville of troop 1002, successfully place every visiting Webelos scout into a unit whether or not it is within 1002 or another unit.
More leaders need to work this way.
This is a program for the boy and not the leader and to guarantee the success of the program; we need to remember that we are a part of the Boy Scouts. We don’t call it the Adult Scout program.

Promoting the Program:

Recruiting scouts into the Boy Scout program really begins on the first day a boy signs his name on the dotted line of the very first scout application form.
Parents need to realize the benefits of the long term involvement in staying in scouts.
The initial boy talk will excite and encourage the boys to join the cub program but that is just the beginning.
It is the leader’s responsibility to maintain that level of excitement to the program and the keys to doing just that come through proper training and education on all levels of the scout program.
Taking all available training is paramount and will ease the way into a well planned transition program.
You cannot talk about the camp experience if you have never experienced it yourself.
Make sure that all of the unit leaders get the training that they deserve to make a quality program for the scouts.

Use the Tools Available:

The Bay-Lakes Council website has transition brochures available for printing for your transition scouts and for the parents. Use the brochures. They will help generate the proper questions the scouts and their parents will need to ask when visiting the troops.

(See and go to the Voyageur District page)
Look to the national web site for help with issues dealing with the transition program.
Ask other leaders what their transition program is like.

One of the best methods to achieving success with the transition program is to have the troops put on a round robin training night for the visiting Webelos and has the boys work on the Scout badge requirements with the Webelos.
The round robin training night allows for the boy scouts to man various station that the Webelos visit and perform specific requirements of the Scout badge. The boy scouts assist the Webelos and will make certain that the knowledge is retained for each requirement. It also allows the boys to meet the new scouts that may cross over into the unit.
This will allow the adult troop leaders to attend to the parents and answer any and all questions the parents may have about the program and the parents will get to watch the interaction between the boy scouts and their son.
The boy scouts get to practice their leadership skills upon the Webelos and get to know them.
Then, at the end of the evening, the transitional scouts will or should have passed those requirements and they will only need a scout master’s conference to receive their first award upon joining the unit.
There is a form on the Voyager District page of Bay-Lakes Council web site for those scout requirements.
They will receive instant recognition in the troop at the first court of honor and get an award with the rest of the boy scouts…a new sense of belonging!

This is a win/win program. The boys scouts get their leadership skills to work on, the Webelos get their interaction with the boy scouts and a possible award upon crossing over, and the parents and cub leaders get their questions answered.

And best of all, it doesn’t cost anything but the time to set up the program. It does pay dividends in the long run.
I have seen this program take off in Australia and now most units now have a waiting list for scouts to join a unit within their community.
I have seen units here struggle with numbers try this program and have successfully grown into a strong, healthy unit.
In the 5 years that I have served as Voyageur District’s Webelos to Scout Transitions Chairman, I have seen units go from under 10 scouts active with one or two leaders to units with numbers hovering around 25 active scouts and 10 active leaders within two year’s time.

This isn’t the only successful transition program available to you. Many are created at the drop of a hat. The things that all successful transition programs have are that there are leaders that excite the boys about the program and will encourage them to experience all that there is to offer within the scouting program.

What you do will reflect upon the numbers your unit will see in membership growth or decline. The choice is yours.
Make scouting today available for the youth of tomorrow. Ensure that all boys have the opportunity to learn and grow living the ideals of scouting.

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