Merit Badge Counselors are Mentors: Simplify the Process

Over the past 105 years we recognize that certain aspects of Scouting evolved to become far more complicated than originally intended. Scouting is a community activity, and at its most basic, should not be burdened by complexities. Admittedly, the world is far more nuanced today than it was in 1910, and these modern conditions work in collusion to create a high paced complicated world. Scouting tries to navigate through this new world, yet sadly more often than not, we add to the complexity rather than helping families simplify. One of the folks who lived within the Spirit of Adventure footprint once wrote

When the mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all encumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real.

Henry David Thoreau

The mission of Spirit of Adventure Council is to help Scouting thrive in all our communities. Often that will mean adding programs or resources – however, like Thoreau teaches us, sometimes it’s best to simplify to improve quality.

When we review merit badge counselor program, we see it has changed to become an over complicated  process. We trust Scoutmasters to develop and run program while keeping the boys safe. The objectives for the merit badge program are simple:

  1. Allow the Scout to set his own goals and work at his own pace while following his own interests
  2. Widen the circle of support for the boy. By reaching out to a community expert and giving the boys another adult role model to work with, we enhance his Scouting experience and provide a tremendous giving opportunity to the expert merit badge counselor.
  3. Provide the cumulative effects of a well-rounded broad understanding of many disciplines
  4. Establish a standard of excellence for the boy through his completion of each requirement

To be honest, over the years Councils have stepped in and created unnecessary and cumbersome oversight. Our Council DOES NOT need to validate the competency of any given volunteer counselor. The scoutmaster, who we trust to run quality program, will make that decision effortlessly. Our Council DOES need to ensure the safety of each boy involved. Therefore each and every merit badge counselor must have a criminal background check and must take youth protection training. The simplest way to do that is to require they are registered members of the BSA.

Admittedly, we have struggled to maintain an up-to-date listing of every certified merit badge counselor. Also, few Scouters require that list anymore. Most Scoutmasters have developed a network of Scout parents to serve as merit badge counselors, or they tap into a neighboring troop’s network.

With today’s level of communication the idea of crowd-sourcing merit badge counselors simply makes more sense. Asking a parent volunteer to serve as a merit badge counselor and as part of that request pay for an annual registration $24 to allow the organization to run a criminal background check and require a youth protection training is far LESS burdensome than the current system. The parent volunteer would become a part of that troops network (and part of their re-charter process) thus simplifying the experience for everyone in the troop.

The Advancement Committee has reviewed and approved this idea and provided a guideline for all Scoutmasters for merit badge crowd sourcing. Check out the new procedure here. This procedure and list of badges requiring certification will be implemented immediately; meanwhile folks still registered in the old system will be grandfathered into the new system through unit rechartering season (this winter).

UPDATE (10/30/15): the online, crowd-sourced Merit Badge Counselor sheet is now live, and available to anyone for editing! Click here to look at the sheet, and be sure to save the URL so that you can access it.

To use this list:

  1. Simply look up the name, location and skills of the folks in your area who match the needs of your troop.
  2. Contact the Service Center via
    1. phone at 617.615.0004 and ask for Marian or Heather (the service center is open Monday – Saturday 8:30 – 4:30)
    2. or send an e-mail to [email protected]
  3. Ask for the contact information of the Merit Badge Counselor and the customer service staff will verify the registration status of the individual.
    1. If he or she is a member in good standing they’ll provide the contact information and send an introductory email to the merit badge counselor and copy you (the unit leader).

Updating this list:

  • If a merit badge counselor in a unit is willing to help other Scouts, they can simply upload their information to the spread sheet.
  • Similarly if someone is moving out of the area, or no longer willing or able to help Scouts they can remove themselves from the list.

In this way the list is simply a collection of Scouters willing to share their knowledge as merit badge counselors. No different than a room full of leaders at a roundtable or summer camp.

The list will be reviewed from time to time to eliminate non-registered or out-of-date volunteers, but because the list is self-managed and no contact information is provided until the youth protection requirements of membership have been met – the list has a much more collaborative and casual role in the Scouting community.