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40 Service Hour Ideas for Trailmen or Trail Life USA Troops

Community service projects and service hours can be a bit daunting as you begin to add them to your program for the young men.  However, like any great endeavor, the difficulties are far outweighed by the benefits!

Volunteering in general has positive effects ranging from building self-esteem, strengthening your community, and reducing stress to developing emotional intelligence and empathy.  From learning professional skills and civic responsibility to learning to work with a team.

Specific projects will also have additional benefits.  Having the young men take cards and treats to first responders can help Trailmen to understand that these are real people who sacrifice much for our communities.  Taking gifts to a nursing home can serve as a reminder that we aren’t immortal and that our elderly deserve much more than we sometimes give them.  Taking gifts to the homeless can serve as a reminder that having a warm home and food are big blessings.  You get the idea, right?

If none of that is reason enough, let’s consider possibly the best reason of all: community service is a great way to share the love of Christ in your community, and it can unlock doors for the gospel that were previously sealed tight.

Finally, I’d add that for a Trailman who is the Point of Contact (POC) and/or coordinating a service project can add multiple additional benefits!  These include developing leadership skills, building the courage to ask for things you need - such as fundraising for a project, gathering materials for a build, or running a food drive or supply drive, developing organizational skills, and many more.

Some of that sounds a lot like being a good steward of Creation, treating others as we want to be treated, character development, and guiding young men to lead with integrity and serve others.  Now if any of that seems familiar, it’s because I took it straight out of the Trailman Oath and the Trail Life USA Mission!

Isn’t it amazing to be part of an organization whose guiding principles and values give us plenty of reasons to do what is right before you even consider that through community service, Trailmen can also earn Service Stars and check a box on their Rank and Award requirements?!

With all that said, here are 40 ideas that you and your Trailmen can use to knock out those service hour requirements!  These are not ideas for Servant Leadership projects for the Freedom Award.  Those need to be much larger projects, and I hope to compile and share a list of ideas for those in the near future as well.

1. Pack Operation Christmas Child (OCC) boxes.   

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2.  Volunteer on a Habitat for Humanity project.  

3. Serve meals through Meals on Wheels.

4. Collect toys for Toys for Tots.   

5. Participate in a city cleanup/trash bash event.  

The few faces not blurred are my kids and me. Multi-Troop turnout for Trinity Trash Bash in Fort Worth, Texas. September 15, 2018.

The few faces not blurred are my kids and me. Multi-Troop turnout for Trinity Trash Bash in Fort Worth, Texas. September 15, 2018.

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Two of my daughters at Trinity Trash Bash in Fort Worth, Texas.  September 15, 2018.   

6.  Clean up litter during a campout. 

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7. Prepare and deliver hot chocolate to homeless people in your community on a cold day.  

8. Prepare meals for homeless people in your community.

9. Make cards for Veterans on Veteran’s Day.  

10. Make cards and deliver them to a nursing home at Christmas, then sing songs with residents while you’re there.  

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11. Organize a food drive for a local food pantry. 

12. Help lead a day camp. 

13.  Older Trailmen can help lead at VBS for younger kids. 

14. Place flags on graves on Memorial Day, or Veteran’s Day.  

15. Serve at a church Trunk-or-Treat. 

16. Volunteer at an animal shelter.

17. Adopt a Highway (or median or street or park, or whatever option is available in your community.)  Clean it frequently.   

18. Clean up a park. 

19. Send Christmas cards to a Troop stationer overseas.   

20.  Collect toiletries and cosmetics for a women’s shelter.  

21. Collect toiletries, socks and snacks, then make and deliver bags to homeless people in your community.  

22. Plant and grow extra fruits and vegetables in your garden, then deliver them to a food pantry when you harvest.   

23. Rake leaves or clean up a yard for elderly people in your neighborhood.   

 

24. Host a dog wash to raise money for a local animal shelter.

25.  Host a book drive to collect new and gently used books for a local homeless shelter or women’s shelter.

26. Help clean up after a community event, such as a firework show on the 4th of July.

27. Write thank you letters to Troop leaders (Trail Guides, Woodlands Ranger, Navigator Trailmaster, Adventurer Advisor, Troopmaster, Chaplain, Committee Members, etc.) thanking them for their time and mail or present them.

28. Check with your Charter Organization and/or Host Church (if they are different), to see if they need anything (plant trees, clean flower beds, change light bulbs, etc.)

29. Help fill plastic eggs for a church Easter Egg hunt.

30. Contact a local State Park or camp that your Troop has used to see if they need any help.  (Clean brush from hiking trails, clean trash, etc.)

31. Collect or make treats and cards to deliver to a police or fire station.  When we do this, my son (16) and oldest daughter (13) bake cookies, our middle daughter (7) decorates goodie bags (see below), all three make cards, then all three out cookies and a card in each goodie bag, which we then deliver.  Last fall, we toured five different fire stations and two police stations when we dropped in with treats.  It made a big impact on my kids.  

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32. Have a bottled water and Gatorade drive, then donate what you collect to local police and fire stations.   

What service hour ideas should I add to this list?  What other ways have your young men earned service hours?  Do you feel like any of these ideas should be removed from the list?  What else should I write about on my blog?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Also, if you are finding this blog useful, please consider checking out the different Trail Life USA coins that we offer in our store.  Fund from these coins allow me to keep this site online!  

Caving at Colorado Bend State Park

On Friday the 25th of January, 19 intrepid Trailmen from Troop 98 excitedly set out for adventure.

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Camping in a state park that none of them had entered before, touring a wilderness cave, and lots of good food were just a few of the things they were looking forward to. The promises of a beautiful weather forecast were also prominent in their thoughts, due to the poor weather that had dampened their campouts this year.

Not long into their drive, the lights on their Troop trailer stopped working.  They made a few stops to try to find supplies to make repairs along the way, but couldn’t find what they needed.

Eventually, they caught the attention of a kind Sheriff, who pulled them over.  Mr. Sheriff suggested that they turn on the hazard lights, as the blinkers worked, but the running lights did not.  The adults had a “why didn’t we think of that?!”moment, switched on the lights, thanked the officer for his kindness and for keeping the roads safe, then set back out.

They arrived at Colorado Bend State Park, found their group site, set up camp, and enjoyed some mighty fine vittles pretty late in the evening, but were in good spirits, despite the lateness of the hour and the interesting trip.

Early the next morning, they woke up and half of their group headed off for the cave.  After some rather intensely scheduled campouts and a lot of bad weather of late, some of the dads were looking forward to a little more relaxation that looked to be in the schedule, but things weren’t going to turn out quite as expected.

Shortly after breakfast, it began to rain, which came and went all day long.  Lots and lots of rain scattered throughout the day slowly took a toll on some of the group.

Early in the afternoon, the other half of the group set out for their cave tour.

Heather, from Nichols Outdoor Adventures, available at www.CBcaves.com, gave them a grand tour, exceeding their expectations.  In the parking lot, she outfitted them with helmets, checked gear and then led them off into the woods.  Along the way, she shared some fun facts about the number of karst and cave features known to exist within the State Park and the sad story of how one central Texas rancher wagered everything in hopes of finding gold on his land, only to find himself in so much debt that he had to sell his beautiful land to the state of Texas.

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Kyle and I have toured five different caves in the past several years, three of those with the Troop and two with our family, but this one was completely different from the others!

It was smaller, sure, but it was also better in many ways.  We discovered that this is classified as a Wilderness Cave, as opposed to a commercial cave, which made all the difference.  We didn’t enter the cave upright and with ease.  Instead, we had to climb down into a hole, using an old tree, Bert, to get in.  Upon entering the cave, many of us larger folk had to crawl a decent bit before being able to stand upright.  More than a few of us were envious of Mr. Merchant’s knee pads at this point, even if we had ridiculed him for them just a few minutes prior.

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Once inside, the group enjoyed the barrage of interesting facts that Heather provided. This was clearly not her first rodeo, and she knew how to make it interesting not only for teenage boys, but also for their old geezer dads. That’s not an easy thing to pull off.

We met a bat who was in hibernation, and Kyle named him Oscar, in keeping with the Sesame Street theme begun by the tree at the entrance, and because we figured if we woke him, he might be a grouch.  Our guide seemed pleased with it and said that this would be his name.  Maybe she lets all the groups name Oscar so they feel special, who knows, but my son was pretty excited either way.

Heather showed us a pile of bones that had been discovered in the cave, and helped the young men use the clues provided by the remains to determine what animal they had belonged to in life.

Cave crickets and daddy long legs were observed, along with lots of cool and interesting cave features.  Then came one of the best parts.  The boys were able to crawl around on their bellies along some tunnels into other parts of the cave.  They loved it!

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After our cave tour, part of the group made a short drive up “cell phone hill” before returning to camp. The top of this hill is quite the mixed bag. While being possibly one of the most beautiful views in the park, many a person likely ignores the view while talking on their cell phone, as it is the closest place to camp where service is possible.

Dads made phone calls to make sure their ladies hadn’t turned them in as missing persons after not hearing from them for nearly 24 hours, while Trailmen wrestled and goofed off. During this time, we found out that the wife of one of us/mom of one of us had been in a car wreck during our technological blackout. Thankfully, it ended up being very minor.

Then, the beauty of the park was beheld!  What a view!  You could see the amazing Gorman Falls from this vantage point, which led to discussion about attempting the hike.  Sadly, time and weather were both working against us and we didn’t make it out.  Between having seen the falls at a distance and the kayaking area of the gorgeous Colorado River, I suspect that we will return during our next program year to see other parts of this wonderful park.  I heard lots of comments suggesting that very thing.

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Once we finished on the hill, we headed back to camp, where we discovered that a small game of football had spontaneously broken out amongst those who went on the early tour. Several from our group joined in and the battle raged. Sadly, it ended when two young men collided, resulting in the first two broken bones in Troop history. Sadly, this happened to a young man joining us for his very first Nav/Ad Campout.

I’d like to thank the other dad who accompanied me on the drive to return him to his parents, the young man’s dad for meeting us halfway, and the Trailmen who helped pack his gear and rode with us to take him back. I loved how everyone in the Troop rallied around the young man, trying to help and to make him feel better, showing compassion and concern, then prayed for him at various times. Great example of Walking Worthy, gentlemen! I’ve checked in on him a few times this week and understand that he is in good spirits, and can’t wait to get back out there.

Unfortunately, the rain continued to come and go throughout the evening and overnight Saturday, well into the early hours of Sunday morning, when hail also joined the party.  Around 3:45 AM, I woke to hear it pouring.  I spent some time in prayer, asking for safety and and better weather before feeling the sudden urge to check the time.  I reached for my cell phone, discovering it in a puddle inside our tent.  I shook off the water, dried it as best I could, then stuck it in my sleeping bag with me.  Nearly a week later, it’s still functioning fine, thankfully.

Sunday morning, after a pretty bad weather night, we woke to discover that several tents had given up the fight and taken on water.  It was cold, wet and foggy, and I’ll admit that I was dreading dealing with a bunch of dropping wet Troop gear when we arrived home.

Thankfully, not long after, the fog cleared, the sun came out, and it began to warm up.  We took down the tents and laid them out to begin drying, hopeful that the sun would take care of our woes.  We packed up what was dry, and attitudes seemed to slowly lift with the temperatures.

We then spent about an hour talking through our thorns, roses and buds. Roses are one of God’s most beautiful creations, so we had a few people tell us what their favorite parts of the campout were. With the roses, come the dreaded thorns, so we also shared our least favorite parts. Each plant has new buds with time, so we also talked about a few things we are looking forward to.

It’s always awesome to listen to others share their hearts during this time. It has a way of reshaping your attitude for the better. It’s awesome to hear the young men sharing all of the things they enjoyed, minimizing the thorns and looking hopefully ahead. It really helps to put things in perspective as we wrap up:

Before long, we flipped our gear to let the other side dry, and it was time for Chapel.  As always, hearing a message based on God’s Word shared by our Troop Chaplain out in the woods, surrounded by some of the best men I know has a way of humbling me.  What an amazing way to spend a Sunday morning!

We then took pictures at a really cool tree that was a neat visual border to our outdoor kitchen area, running between the tamed portion of the land and the wilderness beyond.

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By the time we finished all of that, our gear was dry and ready to pack! We finished up and set off for lunch.

A few of us had been on a previous Troop campout at the nearby Inks Lake State Park about fourteen months prior, after which we stopped on the way home at a great burger place in Lampasas, called Storm’s. Our memories of that lunch led us to convince the group that a return trip was in order.

This turned out to be a wise choice. Not just because Elvis once ate there, but also because they have a few parking spots set up for a big vehicle pulling a trailer, lots of outdoor seating, quick service and fantastic food! We enjoyed some great fellowship while putting away some fine hill country burgers, then set out for an uneventful (thankfully) trip home.

Wrap Up - It wasn’t an easy, comfortable campout, but the good ones never are! Character was forged and bonds were strengthened through the difficulties. I won’t rehash those thoughts, as I already shared them extensively in a post earlier this week.

That said, Colorado Bend State Park, Gorman Falls, and Dynamite Cave were absolutely amazing! I’d love to return to camp there again soon, and for another trip through the cave, a hike to the falls, a dip in the river and some kayaking. It’s always good to have fun things to look forward to!

Any Troop that is able to visit Colorado Bend should definitely do so, and I’d highly recommend setting up a cave tour through Nichols Outdoor Adventures at www.CBcaves.com! If you make it that far, you may as well also stop at Storm’s Lampasas - I promise you won’t regret any of those decisions!

(I was not compensated in any way for my positive reviews above. They are my honest personal opinions, free of any influence.)

Why Do We Camp in Trail Life USA Troop TX-0098?

After our Troop campout this past weekend, I woke up this morning with a few things on my heart.  I shared the following with our Troop, and thought maybe a few nuggets of usefulness would be present for other leaders.  Maybe not.  I’m not a writer and this is mostly raw, unedited, unrefined stream-of-consciousness, but here goes:

Just a “short” reminder that camping has a higher purpose and is just a vessel, through which we *hopefully* accomplish so much more.

I genuinely believe that this weekend was one of the best campouts that we’ve had in quite some time.

It certainly wasn’t because we had beautiful, clear skies the entire time or because things were comfortable and easy.

It also wasn’t because everyone knew exactly what to do, how to do it, or because we were 100% prepared for every possible situation or difficulty.

In fact, the running lights on our trailer went out on the way there, I was pulled over by a Sheriff due to said lights (that’s the first time I know of for that to happen on a Troop campout in the past ten years), we had our first broken bones that I know of in the 20 year history of our Troop, it rained for a significant portion of the trip, it hailed, we had water inside of our Troop tents for the first time ever, we had first timers who had no clue what they were doing, we had teenage boys walking through a difficult time of life and adult men with different opinions of how things should be done, and we had Trailmen who were disappointed that they didn’t earn badges they had hoped for.  For each of those things, let me extend an apology for things outside of the control of men. 

But let us also consider that maybe character isn’t built by sleeping in a temperature-controlled hotel room with room service.  Maybe our young men won’t learn to lead others *only* by reading a handbook.  Maybe they aren’t going to figure out how to respect an axe, hatchet or pocket knife by watching YouTube videos.  Maybe, if we avoid all possibilities of injury or disagreement or bad weather, we won’t ever have the opportunity to give these young men the various skills that they’ll desperately need someday.

There’s nothing wrong with a hotel room, or YouTube, or reading a handbook. Each can be useful, but by getting out in the Lord’s Creation, experiencing the unexpected, and rising to new challenges, these men of tomorrow are building skills that many won’t have.

To the seven dads who joined me in building into the young men this weekend: THANK YOU!!  Believe me, I know it isn’t easy to show up every week for meetings and/or every month for campouts, year after year for a decade, but our sons need you.  They need every dad that they can get - speaking life, encouragement, courage, skills, Biblical teaching, values and character into them and sharing adventure with them as frequently as possible. 

They need all of us men, building a better village for tomorrow, so that they can go out into the world in a few short years with the best tool kit they could possibly wield.  What tool can you add to their belt?

If any of you have had the unfortunate luck of experiencing a campout where I am the primary lead adult, you are painfully aware that these boys will need the skills of other dads.  How can you help?

I can’t even begin to thank each of you enough for your efforts to help me raise Kyle to be the kind of Godly man that I pray he will become.  Trail Life USA, Troop 98, and you men have built so much into him, and I am blessed to watch it happen and see the effects on who he is.  

Each trip, each adventure, each Wisdom from the Wild, each Chapel service, each time he messes up and receives correction, each time he falls and is lifted by others, each time he gets to laugh and experience something new, his world is opened up in great new ways.  I pray that the same is true for each of your sons.

Each of you dads brings something different - gifts, skills, knowledge, abilities, passions, and so much more - to the table.  During the course of a weekend, each of you will feel a nudge from the Lord to bring a word or to teach a skill or speak encouragement or tell a joke or to cook something or to remind a young man to be careful or even to take calculated risks - that will never come from me.

These are the things that a community does for one another. 

That’s what Troop 98 does for each other.

We are all in this for different reasons, and I get that.  We want our sons to have more friends.  Our sons want to camp or canoe or hike or learn to tie knots.  We want them to have one more avenue where they hear about Jesus in a different environment.  We want them to, or they want to, earn a specific rank or award or even ALL the awards.  We want them to be better people than we are or to experience things we wanted to do as kids, but couldn’t.  Some of us want all of that and more!

Whatever the reason you and your son are involved, whatever God used to bring you here, let’s all commit together to view this as a ministry.  Look at it through Kingdom-colored glasses.  Consider what you have to bring to the table and do it the best you can.  Ask the Lord to show you where you can help, and jump in.  Talk to your son about what he’d like to see you do in the Troop.  Talk to an adult leader about where we need you.  Look for ways to be a blessing to the boys and the other dads around you.  Look for ways to build  the Kingdom of God, by building into 50 young men!  This applies to Tuesday nights and monthly campouts the same.

Lastly, let me assure you that if you do, I can promise you that eventually, several things will happen:

1. You’ll be even more exhausted than you already are,

2. The exhaustion will be 100% worthwhile if you ask yourself about the most important things in your life,

3. You will see your son and the men around you through different eyes,

4. You’ll wonder why you didn’t get involved sooner,

5. You’ll come to a point where the end of your son’s time in the Troop and his 18th birthday are both rapidly approaching, and you’ll be saddened that you have only a little time left to make the difference you’ve always wanted to make in his life,

6. You’ll cultivate some of the best friendships that you never realized were possible, and

7. Your only regrets, a few years down the road, will be that you didn’t do a better job, more for your son, or more for the Troop.   

Thank you for taking the time to read this, but thank you even more for committing right now to pray about what you can do for our young men, and thus for the world of tomorrow.