Boy Scouts of America calls it “Family Scouting,” and inviting girls to be part of its packs and troops could help reinvigorate a century-old organization that, nationally, has seen its numbers drop by almost two-thirds since its 1972 peak.
Starting Friday, the Boy Scouts, the longstanding program for boys ages 11 through 17, will admit girls as members. That program will now be known as “Scouts BSA.” The Boy Scouts of America’s program for younger kids, the Cub Scouts, has been accepting girls since June; more than 77,000 girls nationwide have since become Cub Scouts.
“We’ve got 10 girl troops ready to go now, and we will probably have between 15 and 30 (girl) troops in the near future,” said John Fenoglio, scout executive for the Mt. Diablo Silverado Council of the Boy Scouts, which caters to 10,000 or so Scouts in Contra Costa, Napa and Lake counties, and parts of Alameda and Solano counties.
For the Scouts ages 11 to 17, boys’ and girls’ troops will be separate, though boys and girls can be part of a “linked” troop in which the boys’ and girls’ units meet separately, but share a common charter and troop parents’ committee. This differs from Cub Scout packs, in which boys and girls are in the same pack, but are separated in the “den” subgroups.
The first wave of female Eagle Scouts will be recognized in 2020. This award, the highest Boy Scout honor, carries with it a certain cache, and can help secure academic and professional opportunities. Girls’ inclusion into the Boy Scouts has been discussed at the troop level for over a year, with regular messages from the regional councils to troops, and as part of monthly “roundtable” workshop meetings throughout districts at which all manner of subjects are discussed.
Girls haven’t been strangers to Scouting programs. The organization’s Venturing and Explorer programs, open to ages 14 to 20, have been co-ed since 1969. But the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts are by far the most well-known and widespread programs.
In the San Francisco Bay Area Council, which covers San Francisco and part of Alameda County, the Cub Scout program has welcomed 285 girls so far. “It has been the most successful program launch we’ve ever had,” said Frank Yoke, the San Francisco council’s deputy scout executive. “Any time we have an opportunity to serve more kids, it certainly enhances our program.”
Not everyone is behind BSA’s move to accept girls as members. Chandra Benitez, who co-leads her 8-year-old daughter’s Girl Scout troop in Alameda, said she feels BSA will be “poaching” from Girl Scout troops. She said she fears corporate grant-givers will increasingly see the Girl Scouts as redundant, further eroding the organization.
Of the Boy Scouts, she said, “I think they’re categorically unprepared to handle growing girls; I don’t think they have the resources,” said Benitez, who also challenges the idea the Girl Scout groups can’t do all the things Boy Scouts do. “It’s a misconception the Girl Scouts don’t do physical activities,” she said, noting her troop’s nine Girl Scouts often take part in outdoor action. “Troops do what they want – sometimes they’re focused on the outdoors, sometimes they’re more into community service,” said Benitez, whose troop members regularly take part in hiking, ziplining and other outdoor activities.
Membership in both BSA and in Girl Scouts of the USA, has declined significantly in recent years. The Boy Scouts, which peaked at about 6.5 million in 1972, had about 2.3 million members in 2016. At the end of 2017, the Girl Scouts reported 1.76 million members, down from about 2.9 million girls in 2003.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the largest single backer of Boy Scout troops in the US, is ending its long association with the Scouts at the end of this year, over recent changes including allowing openly gay Scouts and leaders, and now girls. But Scouting officials have said they hope the addition of girls will expand the number of families interested in joining, offsetting the expected loss of many of the Mormon members. Fenoglio said there are about 10,000 boys in troops within the Pleasant Hill-based Mt. Diablo Silverado Council – a number he said has been “up and down” in recent years.
Though he acknowledges the pool of “total available youth” will double, Fenoglio expects a far more modest increase in council membership. “Anytime you start new programs, you’ll add new kids,” he said.
Benitez said she’s concerned that girls may end up being put into a “second-class position” in relation to the boys, if for no other reason than the Boy Scouts simply have far more experience catering to boys.
Yoke said there will be some adjustment, but not that much. “BSA offers character development and developing leadership traits,” he said. “The training isn’t really different for boys and girls.”
Photos from www.Scouting.org