On Feb. 8, 1910, the Boy Scouts of America was launched to help young men across the country develop leadership skills, promote patriotism and find an appreciation for the great outdoors.
But last month, nearly one week shy of the organization’s 109th birthday, the organization officially renamed its flagship program from Boy Scouting to Scouts BSA, reflecting the organization’s new policy of allowing girls to join its flagship program for the first time.
The historic change for the organization began in late 2017, when Boy Scouts of America announced it was allowing girls to join its Cub Scouts program (for children in grades K-5) before totally enacting membership for girls in Scouts BSA (for children 11-17).
However, it is up to the discretion of individually chartered troops to decide whether they would like to open their troops up to girl membership.
For an organization which saw membership drop by nearly a third since 2000, the change has been perceived as an effort to both bring in new children and families into the program as well as promote the organization as a viable 21st century outlet for strong youth development for both boys and girls.
Now, as visitors head to the homepage of Scouts BSA’s website, the new initiative is front and center — showcasing a new slogan, “Scout me in,” along with photos and videos of both boys and girls participating in scouting including rock climbing, canoeing and camping.
To begin including girls into already well-established and organized scouting programs, two Boy Scouts of America-chartered troops in Brookfield/LaGrange Park and Riverside are among the hundreds across the country welcoming girls to their ranks.
Brookfield/LaGrange Park’s Troop 90, which was formed in 1954 and run out of Brook Park Elementary School, recently welcomed six girls to its program.
Brookfield mom Jessie Tamburello, whose son participated with Troop 90, said her 11-year-old daughter, Ella, is among the girls in the inaugural female Troop 90 program. She says there was never a huge Girl Scout troop for girls her daughter’s class out of Lincoln Elementary School in southeast Brookfield and, ultimately, her daughter and other area girls were looking for an opportunity to go camping, hike and participate in other outdoor activities like the boys in their families.
“The whole reason why Boy Scouts wanted to offer this to girls was for families like us, where we have both a son and a daughter interested in doing the Boy Scout program and to make it ultimately easier on families,” Tamburello said. “That’s why we went back to Troop 90 and the committee and talked to them trying to figure out exactly what was needed [to include girls in the troop].”
Though girls are now considered members of Scouts BSA, the organization has designated that girls and boys, though members of the same home base, will remain divided into single-sex troops. For Troop 90, this means that there is now Troop 90 boys and Troop 90 GT, or girls troop.
“We will hold meetings on the same day, and some days will do programs together and camping together, but girls will always be in their own patrol,” Tamburello said.
Tamburello said what she and her daughter like about the Boy Scouts model is that unlike the Girl Scouts, which designates different troops for girls in roughly two-year age periods (ages 7-9, 9-11), the Boy Scouts allows scouts to consistently collaborate between children of various ages.
“It’s a mixture of age groups and you’re allowing your kid to have the leadership of being a mentor or having a mentor,” she said. “I really like that and I’ve seen a growth from that.”
Tamburello says while six girls were certainly enough to create a new Girl Scout troop, ultimately, the girls and their families wished to establish a troop within the Boy Scouts model because of how they’ve seen it run in the community.
“I don’t want to say that Girl Scouts is bad at all — I did the Girl Scout program for a little while growing up as well,” she said. “I just know my daughter and what she is truly, really interested in is figuring out how to be a leader, and cooking her own meals and going on campouts, and she wants to get her whittling kit so she can have her knife on her all the time — just those things that make it a little bit different than Girl Scout troops.”
Ella agrees with her mom, saying the Boy Scouts model seemed more interactive overall.
“You go camping, like, a lot, and you get to work on cool merits,” the fifth-grader said. “I’m really excited to work with my brother because he’s in the same troop that’s with me, and most of my friends are joining, too.”
Though a new initiative, Tamburello says reception from the community has been positive.
“I think people have been a little apprehensive first because it’s a new program — nobody knows how this is going to go, but we’re just trying to figure out the best way to integrate the boys and the girls and we’re just going to take their lead of what works and what everybody is comfortable with,” she said. “So far, everybody is just really excited and happy.”
Next door in Riverside, Troop 24 — which was formed in 1917 and chartered by its current home base, Riverside Presbyterian Church, in 1939 — is actively exploring the possibility of forming a girls troop.
Troop 24 volunteer John Flaherty, whose two sons are members of the troop, said the discussion for including girls came up after hearing feedback from families of boys whose sisters were interested in working with the troop.
Though Flaherty does not have a daughter, he says Troop 24 sees value in bringing girls on board.
“I think the Boy Scout program offers a lot of opportunities to explore leadership, explore the outdoors, to go through the rank advancements and learn about different skills in life, and the individual scouts themselves and have exposure to a lot of different opportunities through the merit badge programs [and] through trips,” he said. “It’s just a fantastic opportunity that we’re just opening the door and hopefully, there’s interest there.”
On March 14, at Riverside Presbyterian Church, 116 Barrypoint Road, Troop 24 will host an informational session for area girls and their parents to gauge interest in the formation of a girls troop.
“There’s nothing to say that a girl can’t be involved in both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, it’s just a different opportunity,” Flaherty said. “[Boy Scouts provides] more opportunities for outdoor exploration and the step-merit badge program.”
For information about Brookfield/LaGrange Park’s Troop 90, visit their website, troop90bsa.org. For more information about Riverside Troop 24, visit troop24riverside.com or contact leader Carrie Staubus at firstname.lastname@example.org.