After the Boy Scouts of America announced last October that the organization would accept girls, troops across the nation reached out them to recruit them. The BSA explained that its decision came after a survey revealed that a vast majority of people said they favored including girls and young women in the more than a century-old youth group.
“As we enter a new era for our organization, it’s important that all youth can see themselves in scouting in every way possible,” Michael Surbaugh, the BSA’s chief scout executive, said.
The change came as an exciting surprise for Nicholas Becker, cubmaster of Elmont Pack 294. His daughter had always shared his interest in scouting and joined her brother during pack meetings, he said, but Becker expressed sadness in the fact that she couldn’t share in many of scouting’s rewards because she wasn’t an official member. Now, with the inclusion of girls in BSA, Becker said he sees new opportunities for his daughter and other girls and young women in Elmont.
“The U.S. was the only place where scouting wasn’t co-gendered,” he said. “This has been a long time coming.”
In a 2017 survey, BSA officials found that most scouts came from dual-earning households, in which children were growing up seeing women in the workforce. They also found that there were more single-parent households than ever before, and that a growing number of scouts, including in the Hispanic and Asian communities, preferred to take part in scouting activities as a family.
BSA learned that 90 percent of the parents interviewed were interested in having their daughters join the Cub Scouts, while 87 percent were interested in having them join Boy Scouts. As a result, earlier this year, the BSA accepted 5,000 girls to join their local Cub Scout packs as a part of an early adopters program, which acted as a trial run. In June, the program launched nationwide with the tagline, “Scout Me In.”
“That’s why we love ‘Scout Me In,’ because it speaks to girls and boys and tells them, ‘This is for you. We want you to join,’” said Stephen Medlicott, national marketing group director of the Boy Scouts of America.
Looking to lead by example among his scouts, Becker and his fellow den leaders took the initiative and held several recruitment events at the local elementary schools. Nine girls showed interest, which Becker described as a perfect number to kick-start the new venture. At the same time, Pack 294 needed women from the community to lead the den, and a location to house the scouts for meetings and activities.
William Ost, a Pack 294 den leader, said there would be many changes in integrating girls into the scouts, with packs regularly receiving new rules and policies since the “Scout Me In” initiative began. He explained that while the girls and boys would be in separate dens, they would still participate in the same activities, and be able to enjoy pack nights together. His own daughter is interested in joining the pack, he said, and while Ost believes that it will take some time to get everything right, he expressed confidence that his pack would prepare its newest female members with the same leadership skills that boys have traditionally been taught.
“We’re at a time where we know that girls and boys can do the same things,” Ost said. “Nothing is gender specific anymore.”
This includes earning Boy Scouts’ most prestigious rank — Eagle Scout. Laura Becker, of the Elmont Girl Scouts Troop 1335, admitted that the Eagle Scout rank has more notoriety than the Girl Scouts’ Gold Award, the highest achievement for her organization. She said that while both organizations require hours of work from scouts to improve their communities, society seems more fixated on the Eagle rank, which has been earned by many astronauts, athletes and high-ranking elected leaders. Jahzelle Ortega, a Pack 294 den leader, added that being able to earn the Eagle rank could empower young women to strive for positions that have traditionally been held by men.
“Being able to get into that line of thinking, especially at young age, is great,” Ortega said. “Who knows, one of the girls becoming an Eagle Scout might just be president one day.”
As Pack 294 prepares to welcome its first female den, Becker said he hopes that the group’s current sponsor, the St. Vincent de Paul Church, will continue working with his pack to house the girls. He said he doesn’t want to split the pack into separate buildings, but that he has a few backup locations in mind, just in case.