From Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul

The Reluctant Den Leader

When the best leader’s work is done, the people say, “We did it ourselves.”

Lao Tzu

Running late again, I rushed into the Cub Scouts parents’ meeting. With windblown hair, as a result of my brief dash from the car to the church basement, I hurriedly took a seat, noting the surplus of empty chairs. At least, I wasn’t the only one running behind, I told myself with ample relief.

The Cubmaster checked his watch, and with a barely audible sigh, started the meeting. I continued to look around, stunned to count only five or six other parents present, despite the fact that our pack had at least fifty boys. As the Cubmaster explained the challenges that the group faced in the coming year, he pointed out that the empty chairs, which should have been filled with parent volunteers, were our biggest obstacles.

Several of the dens were lacking parent leaders and with the summer coming to a close, it became unlikely that someone would step in and commit an entire year of Tuesday nights to help guide a group of young boys through the requirements needed to earn their badges.

As he spoke, I felt a rising sense of guilt mounting within me. After all, even I had tried to evade helping out with the Tiger Cubs the previous year. Wasn’t I looking forward to leaving my seven-year-old in the care of a competent adult while I ran errands? Wasn’t I the one who conveniently “forgot” to bake a couple of cakes for the annual fund-raiser and found excuses not to man the yard sale table? I quickly came to realize that the problem wasn’t just about empty chairs; it was also about people like me who were unwilling to sacrifice some of their time to a worthy cause.

Before I could change my mind, I raised my hand to volunteer as den leader to guide the Wolf den through its first formal year of scouting. Although I knew next to nothing about teaching a group of noisy, exuberant and restless second-graders, I was determined to make it work.

My first den meeting was as chaotic and noisy as the first day of a county fair. The boys were too excited to sit still. The craft I had chosen was too complicated and ran over the allotted time. I spent a great deal of my time apologizing to the parents for my ineptitude as a den leader. What have I gotten myself into? I wondered, composing a letter of resignation in my head.

Much to my surprise, the boys actually enjoyed themselves. They even invited their friends to join our den, and before long, our ranks swelled from four boys to ten. My son was thrilled to have his mom as den leader; it gave him bragging rights on the playground. I was having as much fun as the boys and had no idea that I’d be so popular.

As I walked through the school’s parking lot, it was rare when one of “my” boys didn’t call out a greeting or stop me for a quick hug and a story to share. It almost became a contest among them to see who would spot me first. They would talk with me about the little things going on in their lives—whether it was a loose tooth ready to wiggle its way out or a special event coming up. They’d tell me about their homework and their latest Playstation victories. They’d complain about little brothers, sisters and neighborhood bullies. I’d ruffle their hair, ask questions and listen to their answers before hugging them as they scampered back to their teachers or parents.

As I watched them dash away with that curious half-run, half-skip gait that little boys are notorious for, I thought of the empty chairs at that meeting and those who would never know this joy. I thought of those who wouldn’t receive quick, warm hugs from little boys with peanut-butter breath, and those who would miss out on gap-toothed smiles and long-winded stories full of little joys and mini-tragedies. After all, I gave those boys only one hour of my time every week, but they rewarded me with their hearts.

Françoise Inman

[EDITORS’ NOTE: For information on the Cub Scouts, contact The National Council of the Boy Scouts of America, 1325 West Walnut Hill Lane, P.O. Box 152079, Irving, TX 75015-2079; 972-580-2000; fax: 972-580-2502;Web site:]

The Deep End      by Matt Matteo

Reprinted by permission of Matt Matteo.

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