An environmental clean-up project should be much more than a way to simply fulfill service hour requirements. But how do you ensure picking up trash doesn’t devolve into that?
For Pack 267 and Troop 267 in Fredonia, N.Y., leaders and parents have helped turn such projects into learning opportunities and fun annual traditions. It starts with passion, leadership and community engagement.
The troop’s previous Scoutmaster, Chris Eichmann, encouraged Scouts to seek out service projects at their local camp, the American Legion and within the community. The annual Canadaway Creek Clean-up event, organized by a local youth fly-fishing program, soon became a preferred endeavor every summer. Scouts would work alongside community volunteers to tidy up the creek’s shoreline, plant trees and remove invasive species.
Meanwhile, pack leaders built relationships with community entities, mostly non-profits, seeking project ideas for their Cub Scouts. The troop-pack liaison helped coordinate Cub and Boy Scout volunteers to recruit large turnouts at projects.
The leaders kept those relationships as their Scouts crossed over into the troop. For current Scoutmaster Thomas Annear and Assistant Scoutmaster Bill Brown, many of those connections were conservation-based.
“Together, Tom and I saw Scouting as an opportunity to share our love for the outdoors and to teach Scouts to become good stewards of the environment,” Brown says.
Lessons from the beach
Brown teaches biology at a local university. He shares his environmental expertise with Scouts during beach clean-ups along the shores of Lake Erie and helps identify wildlife during hikes.
At beach clean-ups, the garbage that Scouts collect is sent to groups that study the Great Lakes.
“By cataloging, weighing and analyzing the debris, the Scouts learn about the source and environmental impacts of the debris,” Annear says. “They see how one styrofoam cooler carelessly left on the beach can turn into thousands of little pieces that can get into marine food chains.”
Education can bring new perspectives to clean-up projects. Annear credits parental involvement and strong leadership for weaving in teachable moments. He says Scouts are always amazed to see the impacts on the environment.
The work also inspires Eagle Scout projects. One Scout recently installed bat houses at the Greystone Nature Preserve, where the troop and pack have participated in tree-planting events each spring for the past few years.
“By returning to particular places and working with the same community partners year after year, the Scouts put down roots and become stewards of the local environment,” Annear says. “Although they’ve made a big difference locally, our goal is that they will take these lessons of stewardship with them wherever they go.”
Mix in some fun
Making projects fun can also instill a passion in Scouts for the environment and continued service.
Troop 267 has transformed its participation in the Canadaway Creek Clean-up to a weekend of Scouting activities, says Amanda Cooley, Troop 267’s advancement chair.
This year, for example, the Scouts will meet with the local fire department on a Saturday for a hot dog and hamburger picnic, featuring a guest speaker who will discuss the creek’s ecosystem. Then, gloves will be donned and garbage bags will be in hand as the troop heads over to the creek to work.
The next day, the Scouts host one of their main fundraisers for the year: a Father’s Day chicken barbecue at the American Legion Hall. Scouts and their families serve food; Cub Scouts sell water and candy bars, and some Scouts take turns wearing and dancing in a chicken suit to greet guests at the door.
And finally on Monday, the troop holds a court of honor, which usually features ice cream or cupcakes for all to partake.
The units have received citations from conservation groups, such as the Alliance for the Great Lakes, for their volunteerism. If you’re interested in what awards Scouting offers, you can check out the several conservation-related recognitions available for units.