In 1929, famed aviator Amelia Earhart called for a conference of female pilots from across the globe.
As the story goes, 99 of the 117 women pilots invited to the gathering could attend, and from that came the group’s name, the Ninety-Nines International Organization of Women Pilots. The group still exists — and has roots in Valley Stream, at Curtiss Airfield (now the location of the Green Acres Home Depot), where its first cohort initially met.
A little more than 90 years later, another pioneering group of young women in Valley Stream made history in a different fashion last Sunday, when the village’s first all-girl Scouts BSA troop — Troop 99, the namesake of the Ninety-Nines — held its first Court of Honor at the Holy Name of Mary school, during which members were presented with merit badges and moved up to their next scouting rank.
All told, the scouts in Troop 99 earned 57 awards and merit badges, and two former Cub Scouts from Pack 367 — Isabella Lebron and Nina Munafo — moved up to the troop, bringing 99’s total count to 10 members.
In late 2017, the Boy Scouts of America an-nounced that it would allow girls into its ranks, marking a major policy shift in the organization’s 100-year history, and rebranded as Scouts BSA to reflect that move.
Then, this spring, the Girl Scouts of Nassau County announced that it was barring its members from participating in Valley Stream’s annual Camporee on the Village Green, ending a 38-year tradition in which both organizations took part in the weekend-long camping event.
The reason given was that the Girl Scouts of Nassau County was shifting its focus to exclusively Girl Scout-centric events, with Randell Bynum, chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts of Nassau County, issuing a statement to troop leaders that the council believed that participation in the Camporee put it “at risk legally and fiscally.”
In response, Girl Scout Troop 2033 Leader Lisa Burke filed the paperwork to form Troop 99, with the Camporee being its first event, and with her as its leader.
Although she acknowledged the situation leading up to Troop 99’s formation, and that she initially opposed the BSA’s decision to accept girls into their ranks, Burke said the series of events “turned out to be the greatest gift” for the girls in the troop, many of whom had not known one another previously, and have since developed deep bonds.
“This provides a different level of discovery and structure for the girls,” Burke said of the new environment. “I think they’ve adapted pretty well, enjoying the more outdoor emphasis.”
All of Troop 99’s members had previously been Girl Scouts, they said, and many still remained, participating in both organizations. The troop offered their unique perspectives, having seen firsthand the differences between the groups.
Olivia Donato, 12 — who, in addition to earning a number of badges that night, moved up from scout rank to tenderfoot —said the BSA seemed to be more outdoors- and trade-focused than its counterpart, and that using the skills she had learned, she had cut down the Christmas tree this year for her family. She expressed appreciation for the new social environment Troop 99 provides.
“All of these people are my best friends,” Olivia said of her fellow members, most of whom she had not previously known.
Nina Munafo, 10, said she had enjoyed her experience so far with Scouts BSA, having already spent a great deal of time with Troop 99 despite only officially reaching troop level that night. She acknowledged, however, that as a girl in the BSA, she was still a minority.
“Some are growing,” she said of the all-girl troops. “A lot are trying to start, most are Cub Scouts.”
“Girl Scouts is more about girl empowerment,” Nina said, explaining the differences she had noticed between the two. “Whereas Boy Scouts teaches you about survival skills, camping and hiking, or what to do if you get lost somewhere.”
Looking to the future, she said, it was an unfortunate reality that reaching the Eagle Scout rank — the highest in the organization — looks better on a college application than earning the Girl Scouts’ equivalent, the Gold Award, despite requiring a similar number of hours and hard work to achieve, to say nothing of the work required for the Silver and Bronze awards.
Rebecca Sult, 11, who also became a Tenderfoot, said that instead of pigeonholing oneself into one organization or the other, the BSA’s decision to let girls in provided more avenues to success.
“Girls can achieve even more things and have more opportunities to go above and beyond than with just one program,” she said, adding, “It’s another opportunity for girls to work toward their goals.”
After the scouts received their awards and merit badges, and the crossing-over ceremony, in which Isabella Lebron and Nina Munafo walked across a small wooden bridge, symbolizing their transition out of the Cub Scouts to family and fellow troop members on the other side, former Valley Stream Historical Society President Guy Ferrara offered a brief summary of the Ninety-Nines’ history, and its origins in Valley Stream.
Much of it was still new to Burke, she said, having learned about the group only in the past few years. She said that while brainstorming for ideas for the troop’s name, it seemed an appropriate choice.
“I wanted to give them a history before they had a history,” Burke said. “. . . I wanted them to realize the importance of what they were doing as girls.”
Melissa Koenig contributed to this story.