For Towson-based litigator Adam Spence, keeping 50 kids “entertained for an hour” is, in certain respects, not all that different from presenting a case to a judge and jury.
“You give them two minutes of nothing, you’re doomed,” jokes Spence, who for the last year-and-a-half has served as Cub Scout scoutmaster for Pack 444 in Jacksonville, Maryland. “You have to be in control every minute.” And to accomplish such a daunting task as capturing – and maintaining – the attention of a roomful of first- through fifth-graders, Spence enlists one of the most indispensable tools of his trade: a trial notebook.
“[When] an issue comes up [in court], you can’t go shuffling around in paperwork,” he says. “You’ve got to have it in your notebook.” To that end, Spence compiles and tabulates information on everything from meeting plans and jokes to skits and activities requiring audience participation.
“[For example,] when I realize that there’s a lull or it’s a good time for jokes, I flip to tab seven, where I keep my jokes,” demonstrates Spence (who updates his jokes monthly). “If you’re disorganized, those Cubs are going to eat you alive.” He also credits the “quick, on-our-feet-talents that we develop as lawyers” for helping him keep Scout activities on track.
But for all the work involved in creating fun, engaging activities for his Scouts, Spence – who at the urging of fellow parents took over the role as scoutmaster following the departure of his predecessor – admits he is as much creating fun for himself.
“It’s such a change of pace from what we do here as lawyers,” he says from his office, just a short walk from the Baltimore County Circuit Court. “We’re dealing with some pretty heavy things [here], and I think we get out of touch with the lighter side of being.”
Spence’s recent involvement with the Scouts began a few years ago, when the eldest of his three boys – now ages nine, seven and five – joined the Pack he now leads. But Spence traces his own belief in such core Scout values as loyalty, camaraderie, faith, citizenship and love for nature back to his own formative years as a Boy Scout in the Virginia Beach area.
“I’ve carried that love of nature with me through today,” he says, recalling the bygone hikes and campfires of his youth. “There’s a magic to campfires and folklore, which I think we lose in today’s society. We’re so fast-paced, we forget about where we come from. It brings you back to nature, and in one fell swoop you’re combining nature with brotherhood and values.”
Spence works to raise the boys’ awareness and appreciation for the environment with outdoor activities ranging from camping to tree-planting to organized trash clean-ups. Public service is equally important, manifesting in such forms as preparing and serving food to nursing home residents and raising funds for charitable causes. Spence also strives to bolster the kids’ knowledge of history; the Pack has spent nights aboard the USS Constellation and USS Torsk in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The Scout Master is also planning future trips to destinations like the Baltimore Museum of Industry and the Strasburg Rail Road in Lancaster County, Penn. “I think that with Scouts you can encourage responsibility in so many different ways as they develop,” says Spence.
Spence has also worked to build a sense of identity among his charges – as individuals as well as part of a greater whole – through instilling what he calls a sense of “tribal culture”. Simple objects, such as sticks or flattened toy balls, are awarded to mark some special achievement. Spence also highlights individual milestones by painting the faces of his Cubs – a practice which has led him to affectionately dub his Scouts the “Painted Tribe” – beginning with each child’s induction into the Pack.
“When they’re first brought in, they get blue and gold, which are the two colors of the Cub Scouts,” Spence explains. “But as they advance, they get different colors, and they each mean certain things to that rank.” The experience, he notes, is akin to a rite of passage. “It’s my honor to be able to show them respect by painting them and saying, ‘This is a big event in your life. You’ve now advanced rank.'
Spence fondly recalls the impression that his own father’s participation as a scoutmaster left on him while growing up. “It’s always cool when you see your dad doing something [and] being a part of that,” he says. “So that was important to me – to be a part of my kids’ lives. They may not be as sentimental about it as I am – they come out, they just have a good time. But in 20 years they may be, and that’s really what I’m hoping for.”
Spence has seen his Pack grow in number over the last couple of years, with several kids making the transition from Cubs to Webelos to Boy Scouts. Still, he would like to see even more kids get involved – and keep them involved.
“You have to keep the kids having fun to get them to come back,” Spence explains. “I want them there not because they have to be, but because they want to be.” Achieve this, he attests, and Scouting will teach lessons and instill values that last a lifetime. As examples, Spence offers two other organizations in which he is actively involved: the Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce.
“When you ask people in the room to hold up their hands if they were a Boy Scout, I would say 80 percent of the men were,” Spence says. “I mean, that’s where the leaders are coming from, and I think it’s because the core focus is giving back, not just taking what you can get.”