Boy Scouts to welcome girls ... are locals interested?

From left, Elliot Carter, 10, Lily Rower, 9, and Clare Seifert, 9, all of Troop 20278 in Manchester Township, make fortune-tellers as multiple scout troops gather during a fall product kickoff event at Rocky Ridge Park in Springettsbury Township, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

When the Boy Scouts of America announced earlier this month that it would be accepting girls starting next year, reactions were mixed.

Some commended the organization for creating more convenient options for families, while others felt the organization was just fishing for members to boost low numbers.

"From (Boy Scouts of America's) perspective, I can totally understand why they would want to open up (to girls)," said Amy Mountain, director of communications for the local Girl Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania council.

However, Mountain said she thinks the Girl Scouts have a lot to offer. In addition to outdoor learning experiences, there is a strong focus on education programming in the Girl Scouts of the USA, such as financial literacy, robotics and STEM skills, she said. 

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Mountain does not have a problem with the Boy Scouts' decision, especially since she does not think it will affect her troops. So far, she has not heard of any local girls interested in joining the Boy Scouts.

Girl Scouts agree.

“I think that it should just stay the way it is, “ said 9-year-old Brownie Carley Carrozza, of York County Troop 20774.

Emma Klimchock, 12, of York County Troop 20018, said she plans to stay with her troop and thinks others will do the same.

"I feel like it’s a place for just girls, and Boy Scouts, I think, just want new members," she said.

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Mountain said there is no animosity between the boys' and girls' groups in Pennsylvania. They have always had a collaborative relationship, and since the Girl Scouts organization has a very distinctive program directed toward girls, she is not worried about competition for members.

The local Girl Scout council, which includes a large part of Pennsylvania's eastern half, started the year with a 38 percent rise in members. 

Though membership mirrored a national decline in 2012, numbers started to grow in 2016. Regionally, the Girl Scouts have a total membership of 12,644, which is on a good track to reach its end-of-September 2018 goal of 17,140, Mountain said.

"Our girls want to be in Girl Scouts, " she said.

Ron Gardner, the executive for the Boy Scouts of America's Pennsylvania New Birth of Freedom Council, said his organization has "a lot of respect for the Girl Scouts and what they do."

He said he thinks children should have opportunities for programs that develop character and leadership skills, whether it's in the Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts.

The local council plans to make the option available to welcome girls next year, Gardner said.

Boy Scout groups are chartered to local churches or community organizations, and it will be up to those groups to decide whether or not to take advantage of the change and add a girls group, he said.

Cub Scout dens will remain single gender, but girl dens and boy dens will both be accepted into the same pack.

"We’re not making a Boy Scout group co-ed," Gardner said.

He acknowledged the benefits of single-gender groups and said the Boy Scouts of America wants to give parents the choice to maintain separate gender considerations.

Stephanie McNamara, left, of West Manchester Township, works with her daughter Daphne McNamara, 8, of Brownie Troop 20774, as they make a picture holder craft as multiple scout troops gather during a fall product kickoff event at Rocky Ridge Park in Springettsbury Township, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The Boy Scouts of America's board of directors unanimously approved the decision to allow girls into the organization Oct. 11.

With demands on family time and single-parent families, parents were hoping for a scouting program that accepted boys and girls, Gardner said.

They would take their sons to Cub Scouts but be unable to arrange a baby sitter for their daughters, he said, so the girls would come along to the meetings, see what their brothers were doing and think it was pretty cool.

Girl Scouts of the USA  expressed concern with the decision. The organization said it strained the relations between the two groups and believes the decision was based on boosting falling revenue, according to reporting by The Associated Press.

Gardner said he understands the concerns but said he hasn’t heard complaints locally.

Though membership in both organizations is down nationally, according to The Associated Press, local participation in the Boy Scouts is rising, Gardner said.

Membership at the end of September to the Pennsylvania Boy Scout council was up about 2.6 percent compared with the same time a year ago, he said.

Right now it’s 8,187 compared to last year's 7,980, and membership tends to rise near the end of the year, Gardner said. Total membership is down from the 10,508 and 11,376 the council had in 2013 and 2012, respectively, but it has remained in the 9,000 range for the last three years.

The council also saw a rise in new members this fall, with 246 more boys joining this year compared with last year, with a total of 905 new members for 2017.

Molly Rower, 6, of Manchester Township, draws a picture of her superpower, helping others, as multiple scout troops gather during a fall product kickoff event at Rocky Ridge Park in Springettsbury Township, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Boy Scouts of America plans to launch a program for older girls in 2019. It currently has Venturing and Sea Scouts programs for girls, but the new program will be more comparable to the traditional Boy Scout curriculum.

"They can earn their way through to Eagle Scout, so the program requirements would have to tightly align with Boy Scout requirements," Gardner said.

When asked if the Girls Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania council had any interest in welcoming boys, Mountain said the focus right now is on their current programming.

Boys are not completely left out, however, as the Girl Scouts have family camp and volunteer experiences that welcome all, Mountain said.