By William Bowman The Daily Item, Sunbury, Pa.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The Boys Scouts will allow girls to join next year. In fact the program for older girls is expected to start in 2019 and will enable girls to earn the coveted rank of Eagle Scout.
The Daily Item, Sunbury, Pa.
In a historic move Wednesday, the Boy Scouts of America announced plans to admit girls starting next year, a decision Scouting leaders say was made, in part, based on family dynamics as the organization continues its shift away from century-old traditions.
Under the plan, Cub Scout dens -- the smallest unit -- will be either all-boys or all-girls.
The larger Cub Scout packs will have the option to remain single gender or welcome both genders.
The program for older girls is expected to start in 2019 and will enable girls to earn the coveted rank of Eagle Scout.
The Boy Scouts board of directors unanimously approved the plan in a meeting at BSA headquarters in Texas, a move BSA's chief scout executive, Michael Surbaugh, said will help "meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children."
"The values of Scouting -- trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example -- are important for both young men and women," Surbaugh said.
The Girl Scouts of the USA criticized the initiative, saying it strained the century-old bond between the two organizations. Girl Scout officials have suggested the BSA's move was driven partly by financial problems and a need to boost revenue.
"The family structure has changed since 1910," said Jon Brennan, Scout executive for the Susquehanna Council of the Boy Scouts of America. "We are providing this opportunity for the whole family to participate. I think it's a great day for families across the country."
The Girl Scouts, founded in 1912, and the BSA, founded in 1910, are among several major youth organizations in the U.S. experiencing sharp drops in membership in recent years.
In the past five years, the BSA has started to accept gay youth members and adult volunteers, along with transgender boys.
As of March, the Girl Scouts reported more than 1.5 million youth members and 749,000 adult members, down from just over 2 million youth members and about 800,000 adult members in 2014.
The Boy Scouts say current youth participation is about 2.35 million, down from 2.6 million in 2013 and more than 4 million in peak years of the past.
Amy Mountain, director of communications for the 30-county -- including the four Valley counties -- Girl Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania group, said her organization has always had a positive relationship with the Boy Scouts on a local level and expects that to continue.
"We expect to continue our strong working relationship at the local level," she said. "Regardless of what is happening nationally, we will continue to work with Boy Scouts. We each have our own strengths."
While both organizations have seen a decrease in participation nationally, locally both outlets remain strong.
Brennan said his Susquehanna Council, which covers five area counties including Northumberland, Snyder and Union, has seen a relatively flat participation rate in recent years. On the other hand, Mountain said GSHPA had a 38 percent increase in girls for the new Girl Scout year, which began Oct. 1.
"Our membership is really strong and growing," she said. "Girl Scouts is a really relevant program for girls, developed by girls and we don't see any particular issue moving forward."
Interested in Boy Scouts Jenn Price, who lives in Colorado but was a Girl Scout in Port Trevorton until 2006, said she often envied some of the activities the Boy Scouts participated in.
"Girl Scouts of America has removed as many traditional, outdoorsy elements as possible, shutting down many camps and eliminating outdoor skills and adventure in place of leadership and 'embracing your inner princess' or whatever," she said. "In my 10-year stint as a Girl Scout, I was incredibly jealous of the Boy Scouts, who got to learn archery, fishing.
"It's awesome they're giving girls an option to learn the things they're interested in, not just what society tells them they should value," she said.
Mountain said it is vital for these organizations to offer appropriate programs across all levels of Scouting. "The important part is the programming is appropriate for boys or girls and age-appropriate," she said.
Brennan said BSA allowed for local organizations to survey their regions regarding the potential for inclusion and that it wasn't a spur of the moment decision. He said talks have been underway for years and included local meetings last spring.
"To a degree, the local reaction was mixed," he said. "We had some young families very interested and some long-standing Boy Scout people hold some Boy Scout traditions very close at heart. It's part of the success of the entire movement. But the national council did not take it light-hearted."
While Price is unsure what the long-term ramifications will be for either organization, she is glad girls will have an opportunity she never got.
"Maybe integrating the sexes will have negative consequences," she said. "But on the other hand, maybe it will improve the experience for both boys and girls, as they have a more varied exposure to activities they're interested in and to different views on them."