Johnson, an ob/gyn at Michigan Medicine, is board chair of the Boy Scouts Southern Shores Field Service Council–a volunteer position that, he says, works out to a “thirty-hour-a-week part-time job.” His father was in the diplomatic service, so the family lived all over the world. “When I was fourteen or fifteen, we moved to Stockholm, and by then I was an Eagle Scout.”
Last fall, the Boy Scouts of America announced that girls could join the Cub Scouts and rebranded their program for ages eleven-seventeen Scouts BSA. When he looked into it, Johnson says, he learned that parents “really want to have family experiences” that include both sons and daughters. And “there were a lot of girls who wanted to be Eagle Scouts–who wanted to have that same kind of recognition that boys have.”
Erica Person says the chance to be among the first female Eagle Scouts helped draw five girls and four adult volunteers to the first meeting of BSA Troop 1005 (gt) in February. Calvary United Methodist Church, which sponsors BSA Troop 5 for boys, also sponsors the girls troop.
“Our first meeting was fantastic,” says Person. An ophthalmologist by day, Person was a Camp Fire Girl growing up in Nebraska. It was a rugged, outdoorsy program, and she loved it. (The Camp Fire Girls went coed in 1975–they’re now just Camp Fire.)
Saline’s Troop 439 also met for the first time in February. Leader Tammy Mayrend says nine girls registered then, and she’s already fielded two more inquiries.
Mayrend previously led both Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops. “GSA creates entrepreneurs and more financial literacy badges, which I find amazing,” she says. But BSA has more than 135 merit badges “for when you have a girl who wants more high-adventure skills.”
Some other BSA groups are coed, but all the new Scouts BSA troops are single-gender. Mayrend’s thirteen-year-old daughter “is excited about welding,” she says. “Scouting BSA addresses that for me.” So she gave up leading her high school son’s troop to start the new one for girls. She says Troop 439 already has four “very driven young ladies” who want to become the first female Eagle Scouts.
Kristin Schrader, chief marketing and communications officer for Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan, sees no reason for any of this. “Anything a Girl Scout can do with Boy Scouts they can do in Girl Scouts,” she says. “Girl Scouts get to lead their own adventures. If they want to do winter camping, they are welcome to do that.”
The Girl Scouts asked Scouts BSA not to recruit girls, without success. “People don’t know enough about Girl Scouts,” says Schrader. “They have the same bold adventures, and the same opportunities to earn badges, to earn awards, and to achieve leadership that any other organization provides.”
Schrader admits, though, that the Girl Scouts’ top Gold Award doesn’t carry the same prestige as BSA’s Eagle Scout. But she points out that LinkedIn.com, with certification from Girl Scouts, will add a Gold Award “badge” to a Girl Scout’s page.
Boy Scout membership took a hit last year when the Mormon Church stopped sponsoring troops, but it still has 2.4 million members nationally vs 1.7 million for the Girl Scouts. The Girl Scouts lead locally, though, with 1,115 active members to 731 registered with BSA.
Johnson says that Scouts BSA is developing new merit badges with girls in mind and will update their camps “so they are gender-friendly. What has been looked at only with a male eye, now has to be looked at with a female and male eye,” he says. “What do we need to change in terms of camping facilities, toilet and shower facilities?”
Camp menus are likely to change, too. “We’re going to have a lot more salads,” Johnson predicts. “A lot more yogurt.”