Scout service projects

Ask the Expert: Can Scouts earn service hours outside of the troop setting?

expertlogo1Are all service hours created equal?

If a Scout, say, builds a house with his church youth group or delivers meals with his school’s student council, can those hours count toward Boy Scout rank advancement?

That’s what a Scouter named Andrea wondered this week:

Bryan,

Our troop only allows service hours to accrue if it is a troop-sponsored service event. I think that this is against Scouting principles but understand the difficulty in calculating hours if the boys are collecting hours through school, church, etc. What is the BSA policy for this? Can the boys earn service hours outside the troop and how do we get those to “count” if they are allowed to be accrued by the Scout?

Thanks,

Andrea

Now, nobody will question the value of service to others — even those not conducted with a Scout unit. But what Andrea’s wondering is whether her Scoutmaster is correct in restricting which hours may be applied to rank advancement within Scouting.

The short answer: The Scoutmaster is correct. If he or she wants the service projects to be part of troop activities, that’s fine.

Again we turn to the BSA’s Advancement Team for the full explanation.

Service requirements in Boy Scouts

First, a reminder about where and when Boy Scouts must accumulate service hours. Here’s the official language:

  • Second Class Requirement #5: Participate in an approved (minimum of one hour) service project(s).
  • Star Scout Requirement #4: While a First Class Scout, take part in service projects totaling at least six hours of work. These projects must be approved by your Scoutmaster.
  • Life Scout Requirement #4: While a Star Scout, take part in service projects totaling at least six hours of work. These projects must be approved by your Scoutmaster.

Service hours explained

The Advancement Team says:

As you can see, all service projects must be approved by the unit leader (Scoutmaster in this case).

However, service hours are not restricted to just unit-sponsored events or projects. On page 84 of the Boy Scout Handbook, it states in part: “A service project is a special Good Turn that puts Scout spirit into action. Projects can take many forms. You might take part in a community cleanup; repair a place of worship, a museum, or the home of an elderly person; improve a wildlife habitat; volunteer at a hospital or with a public safety group; organize a recycling effort; or conduct a clothing pickup or food drive.”

Scouts may also assist on Eagle Scout projects being conducted by the Eagle Scout candidate.

Again, approval must be obtained from the unit leader; this is how service hours are counted and accounted for.

Basically, a Scout could accumulate service hours outside of Scouting, but only if his Scoutmaster approves.

This is a case of letting each Scoutmaster set his or her own policy.

Thanks for the question, Andrea!

Ask the Expert your question

I can’t find an answer to every question, but I’m taking a select few to our BSA experts to provide some insight. Right now I’m focusing on questions that are asked frequently or would apply to a large group of Scouts or Scouters.

If you have an Ask the Expert question, email it to me.

Related post

Ask the Expert: Do the hours worked by family members count on an Eagle service project?


Photo from Flickr: Some rights reserved by USAG-Humphreys

55 thoughts on “Ask the Expert: Can Scouts earn service hours outside of the troop setting?

  1. Our troop created a form for the boys to fill out to get credit for service hours outside of troop events. It has them list the activity, describe what they did and has the person running the event sign off that they participated. Finally the Scoutmaster has to sign the form before it’s given credit. It’s worked well for us.

    • Ahhh Dave.. I see you beat me to the ‘ create a form’ answer.

      We also do the form. The high school created one so we simply use theirs into our Scouting program. Many high schools are requesting service hours as part of graduation requirements in conjunction with the college application process. To insure proper signature we send a courtesy email of who was in charge of the Scout event to the High School Admin in charge of this form by way of invitation to the event. (Some of our Scouting events are town wide like our Scouting for Food concept because of the rural layout of the community.)

      A version of the form can be found here in the related files section: http://www.wayne.k12.ny.us/webpages/hsgradrqrmnts/community.cfm

    • At the last U of Scouting I took a course on Service Projects. The last part of the service project process is Reflection. This form sounds like a good way for the Scout to reflect on what he did, why he did it, what the benefits might be, etc.

  2. Why create a form? There’s a place in the handbook to record date, project, hours and have a responsible person sign to verify. Page 447.

    • 2 reasons – our boys forget to bring their manual most of the time and we keep a copy for future reference.

      • Ummm….The Boy Scout Handbook?

        If you don’t insist that the boys have it how can they get anything signed off? Or much more importantly LEARN ANY SCOUT SKILL!

    • Ahhhh forms…..

      Did the PLC like the form????

      Oh that’s right they probably didn’t vote on it..

  3. Our Troop has a form for the Scout to complete (much like Dave’s…previous post) and turn into the Advancement Chair after he has the Scoutmaster sign it.
    During our Fall COR we recognize the Scout with the most service hours for the past year. However, we do not count service hours if the Scout will get recognition from another organzation for the same service. Example is Lion’s Heart – A National Teen Volunteer Organization.

  4. I like the form. It gives some accountability. Sure, a Scout is Trustworthy. But as Mr. Reagan said: Trust. But verify.

    • If you want a Scout to be trustworthy, you need to treat him as such. A Scout knows if you actually trust him by your actions, not by you mindlessly repeating hollow platitudes. Conversely, he knows you don’t really consider him trustworthy if you require multiple verifications of something he could just as easily state he has done. Trust, like respect, is a two-way street.

    • I just don’t get the double dipping. If the scouts needs 20 hours of community service for National Honor Society and my son is already giving 15 hours to scouts then why can’t he use his hours for both. I’m not sure about what type of time your son has but my scout is busy. Scouts, football, rugby, baseball, wrestling, band, National Honor Society, Church, High Honor Roll and taking all advanced classes in addition to his chores. He manages his time well and even has a little down time. I just think it’s crazy to do 20 hours for National Honor Society + X hours for scouts + X hours for High School Graduation.

    • It is not double dipping, it is getting multiple recognition. The Scout isn’t getting paid. He is getting recognized for doing Good Turn(s). Many schools recognize an Eagle Project as a Scout’s Graduation Project. Using your logic, the Scout wouldn’t be able to get credit for his Eagle Project if the school recognized it also. Don’t be concerned about Scouts getting too much recognition, that is a good thing, not a bad thing. The critical thing is getting the Scoutmaster’s approval. Some Scoutmasters require advance approval, some don’t. It’s the Scoutmaster’s call.

      • Too much recognition doesn’t create problems???

        really obviously you have never worked with someone from the millennial generation

  5. I had a super religious scout. Because he was so super religious and dedicated he often didn’t get to take part in our troop activities. Church came first. That’s his right and his choice, and I would never diss him for that. And his parents were dedicated to the troop (no camping, but held positions and always there) so when they told me he did something with the church, I did not doubt it. He even took those youth ministry trips – that’s why he never went to camp – always conflicted with that. I fully expect him to become a minister. He’s 15 now.

    Now some of my other boys I might have questioned….but I didn’t have to because they didn’t do anything outside the troop.

  6. After the boy gets permissions from our Scoutmaster we often ask for a letter to be provided attesting to the number of hours the scout worked. While our scouts are trustworthy this also serves as a verification of the number of hours.

  7. I think we often create some unnecessary obstacles for the young men we serve. The point of the service requirements is for young men to learn the value of service. Our mission is to instill in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law. The point of requirements is to get young men to do things that they can see the benefit and value. It’s like the directions to an event. They are all important, but the real goal is to get us there. To me, a worthwhile service is a worthwhile service. I feel like restricting service to unit projects is changing the service from a value into a task to accomplish something – in my mind it actually does the opposite of what the mission of Scouting is. Likewise, I feel like restricting “double dipping” is similar. If the young man is doing good service anywhere, we should recognize it.

      • Bob, your work analogy doesn’t even come close to applying or even making sense here. If you really want to tie this to a paid work analogy – you would have two organizations that want the same task completed, and both contract with the same person to do the same work, yes, both should pay because they contracted for the work and the work was done. They obviously wouldn’t contract for work they didn’t need nor want. But the analogy breaks down. We’re not talking about work for pay. We’re talking about service, and more importantly, about generating a life style of service. If I do a service that multiple people appreciate, should I only accept thanks from one person.
        Your suggestion seems like one that I was talking about – creating necessary obstacles. To me that seems like turning the Eagle Rank into a commodity that is purchased. I guess in a way you can make that suggestion because of the nature of advancements – and I do think all to often we lead the boys into that thought process. But to me, the purpose of this game is to build lives of character, citizenship and service. The requirements are really set there as opportunities to formally build experiences. It’s a pretty subtle difference, yes, but very critical, at least in my mind.

        • Eagle is a commodity to be purchased.

          So I wonder what the % of eagles earned for Wealthy vs Poor troops or areas is????? Cash does make a huge difference……

          The folks on this blog, treat service as a statistic…….not a way of life.

          I don’t know just seems like we got lost along the way….

          Just sad.

        • Bob, you keep misdirecting the conversation (not to mention some Scout Law issues – courteous, kind, etc). The issue discussed is about the service boys are doing – not that they are avoiding it. The discussion is about the unit ignoring the service a Scout does that is not set up by the unit. You keep suggesting that it’s a question of doing service or not, but it’s about recognizing young men for the service that they do, wherever it is. Your contention that a kid putting 20-30 hours on service projects outside of the troop shouldn’t apply towards Scout advancement because they have so much more time they could be doing projects you choose for them in my mind completely misses the boat of the mission we are trying to accomplish.
          But, hey, your welcome to do that in your unit if you so choose. I still suggest that you are creating requirements that don’t exist.

        • I am not add requirements….

          I, well the PLC, is adding opportunities to complete the measly 13 hours of community service….

          I am not adding requirements.

  8. I think it would be best to discuss this at a Committee meeting first with the SM’s leading on it. I, speaking for myself would not be against it. Part of scouting is to network with other people and groups. Who is to say that Scout Johnnie does a service project with his youth group at church and then recruits some kids into his troop or venture crew. It would be good PR for the unit. I think that the Committee should be aware of the service project and give their blessing on it.

    We have boys that do their service projects in the troop, but also use it for their senior project in high school. Scouts wants an Eagle project as a demonstration of management of labor where as a service project is doing the work. So I see no conflict. An Eagle project us usually a step above a senior project though.

    With regard to service, there are all sorts of service. My son and I serve in our church once a month greeting and collecting the offering, while in uniform. It is a residual practice from the Royal Ranger Uniform Sunday. In a way, it is the same as Scout Sunday done 12 times a year instead of just in February. At least in my church anybody in a service group can do the same thing. They do have to be in uniform though.

    I do not think it is acceptable for a scout to do service work after the fact and expect to get credit for it if it was not discussed a head of time. This is up to the SM first and the committee second to approve it.

    • “I do not think it is acceptable for a scout to do service work after the fact and expect to get credit for it if it was not discussed a head of time.” For me, I would disagree with this as well. It is up to the SM, f course, but I see nothing wrong with giving a Scout credit for service he has done. The key is determining that it was really a worthwhile service. Remember, our goal is to instill virtues in their lives, not make them jump through hoops.

    • So my question to you regarding collecting the offering is???

      So you count the entire hour your sitting in church or the actual 5 minutes it takes to do the offering?????

      • Bob, do you go to Church with Kelly? Do you know what the service entails? Maybe there’s more to it. I think it would be appropriate for any Scoutmaster to have this discussion with the Scout. But if the Scoutmaster agrees the service is worthwhile, that isn’t that approval – whether given before or after the fact?

        • I collect the offering and usher at our place of worship….My scout son has helped me since he could walk….

          Should all of those hours since becoming a scout should count??? Heck no.

        • Bob,
          I wonder if you truly don’t understand or if you are just trying to troll and play devil’s advocate. No one is suggesting that any service the Scout has ever done should count at all. The discussion is about service they are doing while a Scout and working towards rank advancement.

      • I get the impression Bob would prefer Scouts use a time clock and punch card to get the exact seconds the Scout spent doing actual service. Who was talking about making service a statistic again?

  9. We allow outside hours. With respect to “double dipping” we don’t allow a Scout to use his Star or Life service hours for Citizenship in the Community service hours but I wouldn’t have an issue with National Honor Society service hours counting towards Scouts.

    We’ve had times where the Troop didn’t have any Eagle projects in the pipeline and Scouts needed service hours for advancement and they’ve used service hours at the food bank or church or at a park to satisfy their service hour requirement. Then we’ve also had times where we have multiple Eagle projects and more hours of work than Scouts to do it. It goes in cycles. For Citizenship in the Community Scouts have done work at the food bank to fill out hours from our Scouting for Food drive. They then have to do a little research on the organization that runs the food bank to finish the requirement.

  10. I find zero evidence that “fathers” of Scouting thought service was only for the group context, and they, of course, saw the patrol as the group, not a troop.

    IMO, restricting service to a troop setting is quite wrong-headed, even in a “Troop Method” unit.

    “Do a Good Turn daily”

  11. In my humble opinion… whether in scouting, honor societies, school or church related, the whole point of “service hours” is to get young people to recognize that service to others is important, rewarding, fulfilling, and that it should be an on-going part of life. Placing too many rules and regulations, or placing too much emphasis on the concept of completion of a required amount of service, implies that it is “one and done”; something to be checked off the list and forgotten. Rather, if we use the requirements as a learning tool, as all requirements should be, we teach young people to try something and find a type of service that is rewarding, with the hope that they will continue that as a life skill. Now, they should as a natural part of participating in Troop activities have opportunities for service…

  12. Isn’t the entire point of community service hours introducing the scout to giving back to the community…..

    Community service should never be treated like what I am seeing here…..

    A simple check mark on the way to Eagle………….

    I feel sad for all of the troops that say they need to count every second or double count service hours…… What in the world does their program look like…

    Our troop has a culture of community service, from service at the churches food pantry, to planting trees for arbor day and earth day…..To our Park and Recs department Junior Ranger program…….

    Our scouts pretty typically get 50 or more hours a year in community service with our troop alone…. So whether or not they count it for national honor society isn’t my worry.

    Seriously folk your over thinking it.

    • Bob, it’s great that you have a program that does that much service. I know many boys, particularly when they get in High School, are active in many pursuits, whether it be Church or school Honor societies where they do a lot of service pretty regularly. Our schools NHS requires a substantial number of hours of service. It seems to me that forcing them to do separate service with the troop is more of a bean counting exercise than worrying about “double counting.” Not to mention the Scout now is having to track what service hours go for what organization – turning them into commodities. Not to mention blocking a young man from advancing because his service was different than what the troop is doing seems a bit petty.

  13. I gotta laugh here…..

    So all this bickering and posturing is over what 12 hours of community service.

    Or am I missing something here?????

    Is community service that tough to come by or are we that lazy??????

    Seriously people your scout spends more time than that playing Black ops in an average week.

    • Bob,
      Pretty strong words. I have to admit, I can’t remember anyone ever suggesting that building a house or delivering meals lazy…
      The discussion is not about 12 hours of service, but about whether additional rules regarding service are arbitrary or appropriate. While 20+ hours per semester of community service doesn’t really sound like a lot – how much time does a young man spend in the troop? About 2 hours tied up every week, and one weekend a month just on the Scouting activities. If a student plays a sport, that’s another 15-20 hours per week. Another couple of hours per week spent doing their school service hours (averaged out over the semester). Add several hours a week attending Church activities (not to mention services). During the fall in Football season, on Fridays, my kids start school in the morning and don’t get home again until 11pm.
      Could they toss in a couple of more hours to fulfill your requirement that they do only service that you want them to do – sure. But at what impact to them and their family?
      Sure, there are kids spending many hours of their day playing video games. But to suggest that they all are is unreasonable. And in my mind, you are adding requirements that do not exist. I have yet to read a requirement that all service had to be done within the troop.

  14. Ya they are harsh because this conversation is completely ridiculous.

    6 hours for star
    6 hours for Life.

    So we are talking 6 hours in a 6 month period if the scout is in a race.

    For most scouts we are talking 6 hours in a year…..1/2 hour per month

    Really people…..we are creating form, tracking 15 minute intervals to get 6 hours….

    I am embarrassed for the Organization. Especially one that has a reputation for good turns and giving to others.

    It simply punctuates that sad state of the BSA and the volunteers that run the local programs.

    If the PLC doesn’t add community service as part of the 6 month program I suggest they add some.

    • Bob – I had a response all written out and just decided it wasn’t worth it. No one is going to change your mind. All I’ve got to say is I’m glad my son isn’t in your troop. I quit Boy Scouts as a kid after 3 months because our Scoutmaster was rigid like you. It was his way or nothing. Very sad indeed.

      • Oh I am not rigid….

        I just think that the adults are being completely stupid about the situation….

        Do you appreciate how little time that is?? Less than a single day.

        A couple of saturday mornings picking up trash or working the food bank or reading to patients in the hospital and your done….

        I bet your son spend more than 6 hours on facebook, twitter, tumblr and video games…I know mine does….

  15. Wow Bob, I am truly disappointed in your attitude. I would expect a scoutmaster to be more reasonable. My son has better time management than most adults I know and gives of his time willingly. Not because he has to but because he wants to. He is busy with life and doesn’t have a facebook, twitter or tumblr account because he thinks it’s nonsense and a complete waste of time. Video games are a luxury on a Saturday afternoon when he’s not camping or at a sports practice. I’m grateful that both his scoutmaster and his National Honor Society advisor do not consider his service hours “double dipping”.

    I can promise his community service is not about a check mark on the way to Eagle. Community service will be life long for him as it has been for my husband and me.

    On a side note, I’m happy to live in a town that has several troops to choose from.

  16. There are 8 troops in a fairly small area…

    They join our troop because of affordable superior program….the PLC does a very good job… We are very close to capacity 36 youth and will wait list after that….

    Not bad in going from 2 active to 28 in three years.

    I expect to be at capacity with other units folding because of the gay issue.

    Hold the boys to a high standard they will surprise you.

  17. The objective is to establish a lifetime routine for the scout to provide service to the community. Let’s stop getting wrapped around the axle about “numbers”. If the scout is routinely providing “cheerful service” to his community, he is doing it right.

  18. So, I’m a Chapter Adviser in the Order of the Arrow. I’ve fought Scoutmasters, and units about getting unit elections done. It has moved from what does the OA really do, to When can we get an OA election for our unit. I think one of the biggest factors is providing service opportunities as a chapter, to the district. This means a Scoutmaster doesn’t have to plan an event, doesn’t have to worry about the rank service hours and his/her unit. It also fulfills one of our requirements as the OA… something about Cheerful Service…

    Additionally this helps each unit, as they count the hours, it goes to towards the District’s service for JTE, the Lodge Claims the hours of service on their JTE, the Council benefits, as the hours count with them, towards their service grants and what not. It really has worked out for me and my chapter.

  19. I think it’s sad that Scoutmaster would restrict service to projects done by the troop. A scout who goes out on his own to do service is being an ambassador of scouting and to not value that kind of independence and leadership is narrow-minded and disappointing. Now, if a scout wants to do a service project outside the unit he should seek approval in advance, not come after the fact. But a scout serves his community in ways that extend beyond the troop.

  20. As a now former SM, I used their Handbook or a form they provided if I was going to allow double dipping.
    To me, It all comes down to whether they’d gotten the central premise behind service hours. So, some Scouts got to double dip and others didn’t. It was a case by case decision, that was driven by the overall goal of the program applied to each Scout.
    If they figured it out and were observably maturing then they got to double dip too.
    It’s not about 2x or not, it’s about why.

  21. The key is approval. As a scoutmaster, I let the boys know that if they wanted for their ‘out-of-troop’ service to count they had to talk to me an get my approval first. Of course my approval wasn’t just rubber stamped, but if the boy could demonstrate the spirit of scouting in the service then of course I would approve it.

  22. The Scout Slogan is: “Do a Good Turn Daily.” THAT is what we adults are supposed to be teaching the Scouts – putting other people’s needs and wants before our own every day. Without question, the primary intent of this is to inculcate within the Scout a desire to habitually serve others every day of his life, far beyond his career as a Scout. Service hour requirements for every rank except Eagle are undoubtedly centered on giving the Scout a chance to discuss his service with his Scoutmaster or fellow Scouts in a meaningful way.

    So why derail this process with unnecessary paperwork? Worse, why would anyone tell the Scout the service “only counts” if the khaki shirt club is in charge? Isn’t that antithetical to helping the Scout develop initiative and to spot needs in any context? Sure it is. It makes Scouts lazy – “No need to plan to help someone, the PLC/SM will do that for me.” It makes Scouts blind – “No need to spot opportunities to serve, the PLC/SM will do that for me.”

    SM’s go out and do your Scouts a big favor: Tell them that service rendered is service rendered and if they can come back and elucidate their service and the time involved, then it counts. So if a Scout happened to spot a need at the local widow’s home yesterday, and immediately took care of it, who am I as SM to imperiously say “Well, that doesn’t count because you didn’t call me first.” ? Please, I would sooner turn in my uniform. The requirement doesn’t say “pre-approved”. I just says “approve” and the boys know, because we have discussed it, modeled it, encouraged it, (you Wood Badgers know where I am going don’t you Explain, Demonstrate, Guide….) and then yes, I ENABLE it by letting my Scouts find service to others within themselves on a daily basis. All I ask, and all the requirement asks, is that the Scout discuss it with me at some point to get my approval and signature.

    • A habit of Good turns are certainly desirable for all youth and even better if it’s practiced daily. Certainly we should not discourage good turns in any way and should model them every day as leaders and parents. But are they required for advancement? Is the requirement to make a straightforward tally of good turn hours?

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