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

Scout service projects

Post updated in 2020


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Are all service hours created equal?

If a Scout, say, builds a house with their church youth group or delivers meals with their student council, can those hours count toward Scouts BSA rank advancement?

That’s what a Scouter named Andrea wondered:

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 Scouts are collecting hours through school, church, etc. What is the BSA policy for this? Can the Scouts 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

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 the Scoutmaster requires that service projects be part of troop activities, that’s fine.

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

Service requirements in Scouts BSA

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

  • Tenderfoot 7B: “Participate in a total of one hour of service in one or more service projects approved by your Scoutmaster. Explain how your service to others relates to the Scout slogan and Scout motto.”
  • Second Class 8E: “Participate in two hours of service through one or more service projects
    approved by your Scoutmaster. Tell how your service to others relates to the Scout Oath.”
  • First Class 9D: “Participate in three hours of service through one or more service projects approved by your Scoutmaster. The project(s) must not be the same service project(s) used for Tenderfoot requirement 7b and Second Class requirement 8e. Explain how your service to others relates to the Scout Law.”
  • Star 4: “While a First Class Scout, participate in six hours of service through one or more service projects approved by your Scoutmaster.”
  • Life 4: “While a Star Scout, participate in six hours of service through one or more service projects approved by your Scoutmaster. At least three hours of this service must be conservation-related.”

(Life Scouts plan an Eagle Scout service project, which is its own separate form of service project.)

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. The Scouts BSA Handbook 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 their Scoutmaster approves.

Also, please take note of this line in the Guide to Advancement: “Counting service hours for school or elsewhere in the community and also for advancement is not considered double counting since the hours are counted only once for advancement purposes.”

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

Thanks for the question, Andrea!

About Bryan Wendell 3032 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.