Boy Scouts: Girls welcome. Girl Scouts: No, thanks.

Boy scout Alexander Henderson examines a new medallion for his hiking stick at Durant Nature Park in Raleigh on June 4, 2017. Henderson received the carved stick for hiking more than 100 miles with the scouts.
Boy scout Alexander Henderson examines a new medallion for his hiking stick at Durant Nature Park in Raleigh on June 4, 2017. Henderson received the carved stick for hiking more than 100 miles with the scouts. newsobserver.com

The Boy Scouts of America will begin accepting girls next year, the national organization announced Wednesday.

The Boy Scouts of America board of directors unanimously approved a plan to welcome girls into the Cub Scouts through all-girl dens, and to deliver a program for older girls through which they could earn the rank of Eagle Scout, according to an announcement on its website.

The decision comes after years of receiving requests from families and girls, the release said.

“This decision is true to the BSA’s mission and core values outlined in the Scout Oath and Law. The values of Scouting – trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example – are important for both young men and women,” Michael Surbaugh, the BSA’s chief scout executive, said in the statement. “We believe it is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children. We strive to bring what our organization does best – developing character and leadership for young people – to as many families and youth as possible as we help shape the next generation of leaders.”

The release notes that families are busier today than in the past and increasingly diverse, and that more families than ever are led by single parents, making programs that serve the whole family more appealing. In addition, it said, “many groups currently underserved by Scouting, including the Hispanic and Asian communities, prefer to participate in activities as a family,” rather than having one child involved in Boy Scouts and a sibling participating in some other program.

The BSA cites surveys that have found high interest among parents of girls in enrolling them in Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts, and it says education experts see the program as relevant for young women.

“The BSA’s record of producing leaders with high character and integrity is amazing,” said Randall Stephenson, BSA’s national board chairman. “I’ve seen nothing that develops leadership skills and discipline like this organization. It is time to make these outstanding leadership development programs available to girls.”

In August, Girl Scouts of the USA President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan complained that the BSA was only considering accepting girls because its membership has been on the decline. Since 2000, the Boy Scouts of America has lost about a third of its members. Hopinkah Hannan said then that the BSA, which emphasizes outdoor adventuring and community service, should concentrate on recruiting all boys, including black and Latino, rather than girls.

Patrick Mahon, 15, of Boy Scout Troop 515 in Wendell, places American flags on the graves of fallen soldiers at the Raleigh National Cemetery on May 27, 2016 in Raleigh. Chuck Liddy cliddy@newsobserver.com

The Girl Scouts, which use outdoor activities, STEM skills, entrepreneurship and service to the community, have seen a similar drop in membership over the same time period.

Lisa Jones, executive officer for Girl Scouts North Carolina Coastal Pines, said the Girl Scouts are uniquely qualified to help young women develop interests, skills, friendships and leadership abilities.

“It comes down to expertise,” she said. “We are the experts when it comes to girl development. We are very impassioned around around a single-gender experience because it is research-proven to provide an environment that allows them to reach their full potential.”

Both organizations were started in the U.S. in the 1910s based on a model developed by British Army officer Lord Robert Baden-Powell.

The Boy Scouts of America is the largest youth program in the nation, with more than 2.3 million members between the ages of 7 and 21, and nearly 1 million adult volunteers throughout the U.S. and its territories. The Boy Scouts has hundreds of troops and packs organized into 11 councils in North Carolina, with tens of thousands of boys enrolled.

The Girl Scouts have 1.8 million members from kindergarten through 12th grade, and 800,000 adult volunteers. The oldest girls can work toward the Girl Scouts’ Gold Award, the highest available to a Girl Scout and designed to be comparable to the BSA’s Eagle Scout. Girl Scouts of the USA has about 80,000 girls and at least 25,000 adult volunteers in the state.

Among other girls, Jones said, Girl Scouts feel safe to explore the outdoors, robotics, engineering and other activities. Girl Scouts emphasize girls leading girls, Jones said. The Coastal Pines region based in Raleigh, which includes 41 counties with 26,000 scouts and 9,500 volunteers, has seen consistent membership growth for the past three years.

Ami Patel, 21, of Cary, who followed her older sister into scouting at age 5, said she learned leadership skills in her scouting years that she expects to use throughout her life. She often has to explain to people, though, what a Girl Scout Gold Award is, through it requires a comparable amount of research, organization and effort as the Boy Scouts’ Eagle Scout project.

“I do feel like I’m educating people on a daily basis,” Patel said. “That’s just part of what it means to be a Girl Scout.”

In February, the Boy Scouts announced that troops would begin to accept transgender boys, a decision that didn’t sit well with all scouting supporters. Coddle Creek Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Mooresville, near Charlotte, told a troop that met in its building it could no longer use the space. A church in Cumberland County ousted a troop there, too.

Starting in the 2018 program year, families can choose to sign up their sons and daughters for Cub Scouts. Existing packs may choose to establish a new girl pack, establish a pack that consists of girl dens and boy dens or remain an all-boy pack. Cub Scout dens will be single-gender – all boys or all girls. Using the same curriculum as the Boy Scouts program, the organization also will deliver a program for older girls, which will be announced in 2018 and projected to be available in 2019, that will enable them to earn the prized Eagle Scout rank. This approach allows the organization to maintain the integrity of the single-gender model while also meeting the needs of today’s families, the BSA said.

While not specifically a religious organization, the Boy Scouts have a mission “to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes,” to help them become responsible, participating citizens. Girl Scouts of the USA says it “builds girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place.”

Martha Quillin: 919-829-8989, @MarthaQuillin

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