The life of a Wood Badge scribe: Great days, late nights

_DJW3333Late on Saturday night, the printer sounded an alarm: the cyan and yellow ink cartridges were running dangerously low.

I turned to Brian, my assistant scribe, to help me make a life-or-death critical decision.

“OK, here’s the situation. We have two options,” I said. “We can print the luncheon programs in color and risk it, or we can play it safe and print them in black and white.”

We decided to risk it. My hand trembling, I unchecked the “print in grayscale” option and held my breath.

One by one the color copies emerged — each a small victory. By the time the 100th copy sputtered its way onto the tray, there was much rejoicing in Scribe Central.

Color copies for everyone!

Yes, the life of a Wood Badge scribe requires late nights, patience and lots of printer ink. But the memories, the camaraderie and the chance to watch Scouters have their eyes opened to the power of Scouting is enough to energize even the sleepiest Scouter.

Getting the call

Last year, David Demarest, course director for Circle Ten Council Wood Badge course S2-571-16-2, called me with the pitch.

Would I be interested in several Saturdays and weeknights spent preparing for the training course known as the Ph.D. of Scouting? Would I be interested in two weekends full of typing, proofreading, printing, folding, hole-punching and laminating? Would I be interested in little sleep and less pay? (In fact, instead of getting paid I’d pay the $140 registration fee like everyone else on staff.)

I said yes without a second thought. I mean, this is Wood Badge we’re talking about.

I took the course in 2012 (and wrote about it for Scouting magazine). I served as Troop Guide in 2013 (and wrote about it for this blog).

So I know about the course’s magnetic power to change a person’s life. I know how it puts a Scout leader through a month in the life of a Scout. I know that Wood Badge participants make lifelong friends and leave with fresh ideas for improving their Scout units.

And I know that when it comes to Scout leader training, the only thing better than taking Wood Badge is staffing Wood Badge.

So when I learned Demarest and Senior Patrol Leader Ben Stradley — both staffers with me in 2013 — were leading a course, I couldn’t say no.

A scribe’s life for me

My assistant scribe, Brian Kirkwood, and I were in charge of preparing all printed materials and ensuring the technology worked during course presentations.

At least once per day, someone would run in and utter these words: “Bryan/Brian, can you print something for me?”

A Wood Badge scribe plays a support role. Our job was to help others do their jobs.

And, of course, to design the course newspaper, the Gilwell Gazette. Each evening, I opened Adobe InDesign and got to work. The Gazette included columns from Demarest, Stradley, Quartermaster John Wells and me; submissions from each patrol of Wood Badge participants; photos; and a daily course schedule. As an added bonus, my dad, Don, was the course photographer and supplied all the great photos included in each issue.

Brian and I worked as quickly as the printer would allow. (Note to self: next time, find a printer that’s faster at two-sided printing.) Paper jams and empty ink cartridges were our greatest enemies. We considered it a successful night when we got to bed before midnight.

But the funny thing is: None of this felt like work.

The 6 a.m. alarm came earlier each morning, but when we saw participants anxiously reading their Gazette copies as they sipped coffee, we knew our efforts were worth it.

Here are the covers for the six issues of the Gazette we printed (and folded and hole-punched).







Lessons learned

If I have one regret about being a Wood Badge scribe, it’s that I didn’t see more of the course. We missed a few key moments — to preserve the magic of Wood Badge, I won’t say which ones — because of last-minute printing needs.

But when the printer finally took a break, we did too. And we watched our fellow staff and participants make this Wood Badge course shine.

It’s humbling to realize that 39 participants and 25 staff members gave up all this time away from their families and their jobs because they care so much about Scouting. Their enthusiasm is infectious.

And it’s not just in Circle Ten Council, of which I’m a member. Wood Badge courses inspire Scouts from coast to coast (and around the world).

More than words

The BSA’s Wood Badge syllabus is a 438-page document that includes everything a staff member needs to know to run the course.

You could read the entire printed syllabus and get some important lessons about being a better Scouter, a better leader and a better person — just like you could read the script for a play and be entertained.

But at Wood Badge or on a stage, it’s the people that turn the words into magic. Wood Badge without people is like a play without actors.

And the people involved in this Wood Badge course have inspired me to be a better Scouter.

Why take Wood Badge?

If you aren’t Wood Badge trained, you’re missing out on the chance to be a better leader for your Scouts or Venturers.

And it’s not just me saying this. Here are 25 of your fellow Scouters sharing why Wood Badge is the right move.

Contact your council to find out about the next Wood Badge course.