Girls joining Boy Scouts offers a 'feeling of completion'

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PITTSFIELD — Lily Smith is a Scout through and through.

The 14-year-old has been a Brownie, a Junior and a Cadette with the Girl Scouts of the United States of America, eager to earn badges, complete community service projects and meet her annual cookie-selling goals.

And, as a founding member of the first female troop in Pittsfield established under the Boy Scouts of America, she's also somewhat of a trailblazer.

During a May 29 court of honor ceremony, Lily and her co-founding members, sisters Audrey Berard, 10, and Carissa Berard, 12, of Pittsfield, officially were given their Scout ranks.

In 2017, the Boy Scouts of America announced that it would begin a process to welcome girls into its programs, giving them the opportunity to advance from Cub Scout to Eagle Scout ranks. This new initiative for boys and girls ages 11 to 17, now known as Scouts BSA, was formalized in February.

Lily's brothers, Kevin, 8, and James, 11, have been working their way up the ranks through the Boy Scouts, and she and her parents often would join her brothers' respective packs on Cub Scout camping trips.

Lily would cheer them on at pine wood derbies, but she soon tired of standing on the sidelines.

She wanted to be a part of the jamborees, the building, the action. And now, thanks to the Boy Scouts' new initiative, she has that opportunity.

"This gives me a kind of feeling of completion," Lily said after the May 29 court of honor ceremony. "After watching my brothers do what I've wanted to do for so long, I've finally been able to do it for myself."

Lily and her brother, James, who advanced from Webelo to Scout rank, were tapped in through a fireside pinning and dubbing ceremony held in the Civilian Conservation Corps Ski Lodge at Pittsfield State Forest.

This transition to allowing girls into the boys' programs has been on Bill Macfarlane's radar.

"A year ago, I told the boys this would be coming down the pipeline," said Macfarlane, scoutmaster for BSA Troop 8 in Pittsfield. He also is systems director for New England Newspapers Inc.

Macfarlane thought it was a great idea, even though he and his fellow troop leaders were unsure of what rules and guidelines would be changed, and whether boys and girls would be in separate troops or combined.

At one time, he said, Pittsfield alone had six troops. Now, according to a BSA database, there are only three registered in the 01201 ZIP code.

Macfarlane, a lifelong scout and leader who is retiring as scoutmaster next year, also noted that girls and women have participated in activities and programs of the Boy Scouts for decades, from having female pack and troop leaders to young women participating in the BSA's coed Venturing and Sea Scouts programs.

So, when Lily's mother, Erin Smith, reached out to him to see if Troop 8 would help establish a sister troop, Macfarlane said he and his committee would welcome them without hesitation.

"Lily's just been waiting for this," Erin said. "She joined as soon as she handed in her money after cookie season."

Lily, who started scouting in 2012, during the 100th anniversary year of the Girl Scouts, said that, judging from her brothers' experiences, being a part of the BSA "seemed like a ton of fun."

"I wanted to try more wilderness activities," she said. "And so I told my mom, 'Let's do this.' "

Paving the way

While Erin Smith, Assistant Scoutmaster Kyle Berard, Macfarlane and other troop committee members worked to get their paperwork in order for the girls' troop, Erin registered Lily as what's known as a Lone Scout — it's an individual youth who is unaffiliated with a particular troop — so Lily could start studying for, and earning merit badges and attending events and programs within, the BSA.

Under the BSA framework, all troops must be formed through a new or existing charter organization and troop committee. Chartered organizations should have separate scoutmasters for their boys' troop and girls' troop — the troops are not coed — but they can choose to share a leadership committee and also meet at the same time in a shared space. The troops can plan events together, and open and close their meetings together, but other activities should be separate, even though they all use the same handbook for guidance.

Ruthann Eagen, senior district executive of the Appalachian Trail District for the Western Massachusetts Council of the BSA, said via email that as of May 15, there were 15 girls ages 5 to 10 in the district's Cub Scouting program "with that number growing steadily throughout the district and council."

The first female Scouts BSA troop in Pittsfield is now officially listed as Troop 5008-G in Scoutbook, the BSA's online unit management tool to track members' progress. It's chartered at Zion Lutheran Church in Pittsfield, the same as its brother Troop 1008.

Eagen said that the Appalachian Trail District for the Western Massachusetts Council has grown in the past month from 29 to 31 units, enrolling more than 400 youths.

"The Western Massachusetts Council is very proud and excited for this awesome opportunity to now give all youth of Berkshire County the great and strong Scouting program and experience for our future leaders," she said.

Before their official membership, Lily, Audrey and Carissa went to their first meeting together, March 20 at Zion Lutheran Church. During the meeting's opening exercises, though the Girl Scout Promise and Girl Scout Law are still committed to Lily's memory, she raised three fingers of her right hand and joined her brother Troop 1008 members in reciting the Scouts BSA Oath.

"It felt a little awkward," Lily said.

Audrey previously had attended meetings of Cub Scout Pack 1, based at First United Methodist Church in Pittsfield.

"I was the only girl, and it felt a little weird because I stood out," Audrey said.

Asked what interested her in Scouts BSA, Audrey said the Boy Scouts do what she and her family have grown up doing together.

"We all camp, and it's fun," she said.

At the time, Carissa was attending her first meeting, to see if she wanted to join.

Together, the three formed an all-girl team to take part in the evening's "break the rules" derby car challenge, during which troop members were invited to put their own spin and modifications on the specifications for the traditional pine wood derby car. The girls went with a simple shoe-shaped design.

"I used a saw for the first time. It was kind of scary, but fun," Lily said.

Meanwhile, their male counterparts, many with years of pine wood derbies under their belts, experimented with making double-body cars, adding weights and even drones to their designs. While the young men and women all shared the same tools, there was little interaction between genders during that first coinciding meeting.

Macfarlane and Erin Smith acknowledged that they "threw the kids into it."

No one adamantly protested the girls being among the Pittsfield Boy Scouts troop, but across the country, people have protested and challenged the changes.

Change brings challenges

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Erin Smith and her family, who moved to Pittsfield in summer 2017, were living in North Carolina's Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune when she read news reports that the BSA leaders were discussing offering more opportunities for girls. Erin herself has been a leader for her children's BSA and GSUSA groups. She remembers that while some people embraced the new BSA policy, "I did have friends I butted heads with."

Several petitions emerged on the website Change.org in opposition to the BSA move to enlist girls.

"This is not right; it's called Boy Scouts for a reason," one petition read. That petition, which has since closed, garnered 2,710 supporters.

On Nov. 6, the Girl Scouts of the United States of America filed a lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America over use of the term "Scouts." The claim states: "In particular, given its significant programming shift, BSA is now trying to alter its core brand identity from BOY SCOUTS to SCOUTS, through the use of communicative elements like the slogan 'Scout Me In' and the new name by which it will refer to its best known Boy Scout program — 'Scouts BSA' with members being called 'Scouts.' "

Both organizations are more than a century old and use the term "scout" in their titles and materials, and both are constantly vying for youth membership. They also have had to confront issues of inclusion over the years.

It was only recently, from 2013 to 2017, that the BSA shifted its policies to welcome openly gay scouts, gay troop leaders and transgender youths. That move prompted the Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to officially sever its long-standing ties to the BSA, taking an estimated 18.5 percent of the Boy Scout population with it.

The Girl Scouts of the USA never has had a ban on LGBTQ youths or leaders and has articulated its welcoming stance publicly since the early 2000s, despite protests from conservative groups and individuals. Whether its members are transgender girls or biological females, the Girl Scouts remain firm on girls-only membership.

According to a 2017 Girl Scouts blog post, the organization says it believes "strongly in the importance of the all-girl, girl-led, and girl-friendly environment that Girl Scouts provides, which creates a free space for girls to learn and thrive."

Neither the Girl Scouts of the USA nor its affiliate Girl Scouts of Central & Western Massachusetts plans on enlisting boys anytime soon.

There are 29 Girl Scout troops in Berkshire County, with 283 girls, up 3.3 percent from this time last year, according to Dana Carnegie, communications manager for Girl Scouts of Central & Western Massachusetts.

"We have more than a century of experience creating programs specifically for girls and girls will remain our entire focus," Carnegie said in an email. "While Boy Scouts' goal of inclusivity is commendable, substantial research affirms that some girls need and benefit from girl-only spaces. We want to be that space for those girls."

Moving forward

Despite disagreements, it won't stop youths like Lily from wanting to take advantage in all that the Girl Scouts and the Scouts BSA have to offer.

Through her time with the Girl Scouts, Lily has sold cookies, learned knots and knife skills, and has gone on primitive camping trips. She still participates in activities at Girl Scout Camp Bonnie Brae, which will celebrate its centennial anniversary this summer. These are all things Lily is proud of.

But she also has been working hard to catch up on her Scouts BSA merit badges and ranks. Since joining in March, she has earned badges in geology, architecture, public health, and pulp and paper. And although she already has the knowledge, she is willing to start from scratch to earn her BSA badges in camping, hiking and the like.

During the court of honor, Lily also was given the rank of Tenderfoot.

"I tell my daughter, 'You're the future of Pittsfield. You're smart, you do all these things, you're going to come back here and be a decision-maker, and a good one,' " Erin Smith said.

As the BSA continues to expand its female Scouts BSA membership, there are some underlying concerns that members of both genders have as Scouts BSA evolves.

At that March 20 meeting, during which the girls showed up, male Troop 8 members Brevan Bove, Alex Curry, Lyndon Morehouse and Hunter Street were more focused on modifying their derby car, the S.S. Brevan T. Bove.

Asked about their scouting experiences, most of them said they joined the Cub Scouts in elementary school and decided to stay on as teenagers to build their skills, to camp and to be with friends. Like Girl Scouts, Scouts BSA promotes troop bonding, group community service projects as well as individual achievement and growth.

Bove said he had one goal: "I need to get Eagle." The junior assistant scoutmaster and Life Scout, who was about to turn 18, finished his project — he did trail work behind Taconic High School — and turned in his paperwork to earn the BSA's prestigious Eagle Scout rank, just under the wire.

The troop members glanced at one another when asked how they felt about girls joining their ranks.

Street, 16, a First Class Scout and assistant senior patrol leader, was the first to break the silence. At first, he said, he wondered why girls wanted to join the BSA.

"I guess I understand what they're trying to do, but I also think it's going to be different, a lot different. But, I respect the decision to let them join," Street said.

In a separate interview, Mike Maruk, 17, who also recently finished his Eagle Scout project — he poured concrete dugouts at the Bill Laston Memorial Park in Lanesborough — said he thinks his sister troop members are doing just fine.

"I think it's great," he said. "They're doing pretty much the same thing we did to get our ranks. If girls want to do boy things, that's fine. I mean, it's kind of the future."

Curry, 16, the reelected senior patrol leader who is on the verge of rising from Life to Eagle Scout rank, said that from his perspective, as the population of the troop waxes and wanes due to graduating high schoolers and members juggling other activities like sports and jobs, the more members it can attract and retain, the better the unit.

His advice for girls and young women joining the BSA: "Work at advancement but don't focus on just advancement. Have fun with the experience."

That's all the new girls can hope for.

"I don't think it really matters about gender as long as you're enjoying what you do," Lily said.

"I hope more girls join, because maybe we'll stand out less," Audrey said.

Carissa said she is looking to "just learn from the experience" of being in Scouts BSA.

"We're all interested in the same things in Scouts, but we might have different personalities and different bodies," she said. "They just have to look past our long hair."

A fourth girl, 14-year-old Christa Sims, decided to join Troop 5008-G this month.

"At first, when Lily asked me to join, I thought she was joking. But then I just decided to do it because doing things and making friends makes me happy, and I like trying as many new things as I can," Christa said.

Together, they decided on their Scouts BSA patrol name, The AquaCorns, and even have a song that concludes, "because we're awesome."

The female troop members said that interactions between them and the boys have improved a little bit. Some of them go to the same schools and talk about scouting here and there.

Audrey and Carissa's mother, Lisa Berard, said she is proud to support her daughters and the whole Scouts BSA troop.

"It's not always easy to stand up in front of the boys and do something like this. ... It's a good experience for these girls and the boys to learn to work together," she said.

Jenn Smith can be reached at jsmith@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6239.


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