At least one teenage girl and her mother in the Quad-Cities celebrated Boy Scouts of America’s historic decision last month to expand its opportunities for young females.
“We were really excited because I have a lot of sister siblings who want to do Boy Scouts,” said Claire Lilius, whose mother, Kristy, accompanied her to a scouting seminar Saturday in East Moline.
But the mother-daughter duo wondered if there will be any stipulations — whether girls may attempt to earn the same merit badges as boys, for example, to achieve the prestigious Eagle Scout rank.
“I really hope they don’t change anything because that just means they don’t value girls as much as boys or they don’t think they’re as capable,” Kristy said. “As a mom of five (girls), I know they are.”
Tom McDermott, CEO of the Illowa Council, which oversees 82 Boy Scout troops in Iowa and Illinois, reassured them and others the organization plans to use its traditional curriculum for its future girls’ program. He addressed a crowd of about 125 people during the council’s recent leadership training event, called University of Scouting, at United Township High School.
“They’re not going to water down or change any of the requirements,” said McDermott, director of the Davenport-based council for the past 11 years. “A young lady making Eagle Scout will have to do the exact same things as a young man.”
Beginning in 2018, families may begin enrolling their daughters, age 6-10, in Cub Scouts. Further details about girls earning the Eagle Scout rank, for scouts age 11-17, will be announced in 2018, with a projected launch date of early 2019.
Under the new guidelines, existing Cub Scout packs are not required to allow girls into their groups, known as dens. The chartered organization that sponsors the pack may make that decision, establish a new all-girl pack or create one that consists of separate boy dens and girl dens.
McDermott, a father of four former Girl Scouts, predicted sisters of current Boy Scouts will make up the majority of the first registrants.
“I meet so many parents and leaders who have sons and daughters, and I see their pride when their son makes Eagle Scout,” he said. “I know those parents would be just as proud to see their daughters reach that pinnacle.”
Orion, Illinois, resident Damon Seys hopes his 9-year-old daughter becomes the first female Eagle Scout from their small town in Henry County, about 20 miles south of the metro Quad-Cities. Seys serves as the chartered organization representative for United Methodist Church in Orion, which sponsors Boy Scout Troop 123.
“Girl Scouts really wasn’t for her,” he said of his daughter, who witnessed her older brother participate in various outdoor adventures as a Boy Scout. “She was very disappointed when she went into Girl Scouts because she thought it was going to be different.”
Seys brought his daughter with him to the Illowa Council’s annual Halloween campout last month at Loud Thunder Scout Reservation in Illinois City, where they endured torrential rains and muddy terrain.
“We’re ready,” he said.
Girl Scouts: 'We know them better'
During a phone interview Wednesday, Diane Nelson, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois, touted the range of opportunities her organization offers, including the ability to pursue the distinguished Gold Award.
“It’s very difficult to get,” she said of the highest achievement in Girl Scouts, noting it presents just as much or more of a challenge than the Eagle Scout rank.
This past weekend, McDermott referred to the Gold Award as a “tremendous accomplishment,” adding, “This is not a move to steal any youth away from Girl Scouts.”
Nelson also stressed the importance of learning in a single-gender setting, advantages McDermott acknowledged as well.
“Research shows they’re more willing to raise their hand, speak up and feel more confident in an all-girl environment,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that the Boy Scouts have gone in this direction, but I also know that our families are very dedicated to Girl Scouts."
After leading a class on boy behavior at University of Scouting, Chris Wulf, a volunteer for the Boy Scouts, said integrating boys and girls may lead to both problems and benefits.
“For the most part, boys socialize much more physically and girls socialize much more verbally,” said Wulf, who works as a high school guidance counselor in Columbus Junction, Iowa. “Boys and girls will learn how to communicate and interact with each other on a much different level than they do at school.”
The Bettendorf-based Girl Scouts council, which operates several other offices throughout the region, has about 16,000 youth members and 4,000 adult members.
"We're going to stick to growing our girls," Nelson said. “Girl Scouts is built by girls for girls, so we know them better than anyone.”
This 'isn't anything new'
After two years, Claire Lilius of Silvis dropped out of Girl Scouts. At 14, she signed up for Venturing, a co-ed youth development program for outdoors enthusiasts, age 14-21, introduced by Boy Scouts of America in 1998.
“It means a lot to me,” she said. “I get to hang out with other people, which is what I needed because I’m home-schooled and it helps me make friends and connections with people."
Claire, now 16, especially enjoys camping and hiking and organizing outings involving those activities. This past summer, the member of Venture Crew 119 in Moline attended the National Scout Jamboree, a 10-day celebration of scouting held every four years in West Virginia.
“Camping for me is a break from reality,” said Claire, who hopes to inspire her younger sisters to follow suit.
Venturing is one of four co-ed programs offered by the Boy Scouts. In 1971, the organization allowed girls to join Exploring, which focuses on building life and career skills.
“Having girls involved in our programs isn’t anything new,” McDermott said, calling the recent shift in policy a product of evolution. “If any young girl in our area wants to join, we’ll do everything we can to find her a home in scouting,”
Between sessions at University of Scouting, Gabe McKinley, a 14-year-old member of Boy Scout Troop 383 in East Moline, pledged his support for the changes.
"They (girls) deserve the same opportunity as us," he said. "I think it will be exciting to see more people in Boy Scouts."