Apr. 6, 2019

By Martha Bowles
Special to the Tribune

Feb. 1, 2019 marked a historic date for the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). On that day, all BSA programs officially included girls. The change is one of many through the organization’s history that has now led to making girls eligible for all aspects of the BSA programs.

As early as 1969, young women from 14 to 20 years old were allowed to join select Explorer posts. By 1971, they were granted full membership in Exploring. In 1998, the Exploring program was divided into Sea Scouts, Venturing and Explorers. These programs continue to be co-ed.

In 2018, the BSA opened their Cub Scout Program (for ages 5 to 10) to girls. This change did not make Cub Scout Dens co-ed: Girls formed all-girl dens and the boys formed all-boy dens. Den meetings maintained the gender-specific model, but during monthly pack meetings all dens could participate in joint activities.

On Feb. 1, girls aged 11 to 17 were welcomed into the program previously know as Boy Scout Troops. With this change, troops became Scouts BSA, rather than Boy Scouts. This did not change the overall name of the organization, which remains Boys Scouts of America. The change also did not make the Scouts BSA program co-ed. Girls form separate all-girl troops and boys remain in all-boy troops.

To form, a troop must have at least five girls and four adult leaders. For the new girl troops, at least one of the adults must be female. The program for troops has not changed. The addition of girls to Scouts BSA did not diminish the program for boys. By having single-gender troops, the benefit of male bonding and female bonding are maintained while allowing both genders the opportunity to complete the outstanding program of skills, leadership, outdoor adventure and personal growth that the BSA has to offer.

There are mixed feelings regarding this change across the country, but Xavier Diaz, Eagle Scout from Lee’s Summit, is supportive of the change. According to him, “The Scout program should not just be about molding boys into men but should expand its mission to help teach all youth about what it means to be a responsible member of society, which is what I drew from being a Scout. I think this move is a step in that direction.”

The Heart of America Council worked tirelessly to implement the Scouts BSA change in the area. Representatives visited local units to answer questions and provide guidance. In addition, they have taken steps to incorporate girls into council-wide opportunities. A highpoint of a Scout’s year is the opportunity to attend summer camp. Many Scouts in the Heart of America Council attend a 10-day camp at the H. Roe Bartle Scout Reservation each year. The camp experience includes activities geared toward merit badges, skills, service, independence, and friendship. 2019 will mark the inaugural all-girl session at Camp Piercing Arrow of the H. Roe Bartle Scout Reservation. Girls from around the area will now get the same opportunities to camp for 10 days at Bartle and to build memories that will last a lifetime.

In just a few months, the number of girls in the program continues to grow. There are now 40 Scouts BSA Troops for girls in the Heart of America Council. Across all BSA programs, there are over 900 girls benefiting from Cub Scout, Scouts BSA, Exploring, and Venturing in our local council.

Journalist Martha Bowles has been a BSA volunteer for 15 years. In her early years, she was a den leader and advancement chair in Cub Scouts. In 2009, she became an assistant scoutmaster in the troop and later the troop treasurer. In 2015, she served as the camp scoutmaster for her troop at the H. Roe Bartle Scout Reservation, and for the past five years has been on staff as a commissioner at Bartle. She has completed many training courses related to Scouting, the highlight of which was Venturing training at the Philmont Scout Reservation in New Mexico. She is currently a troop committee member for a boys troop and the associate advisor of administration for a Venturing Crew. Martha has been active at the district and council levels for many years, helping with Cub Scout day camp, fundraising and merit badge events. In 2015, she received the highest district recognition, the District Award of Merit.