They were quiet at first.
About 20 girls from across the state, ranging in age from 13 to 17, met each other for the first time as they filed one by one into Camp Thunderbird in Olympia on Friday.
Although they were mostly strangers, they had one thing in common — they were all interested in joining Boy Scouts of America.
The first-ever BSA Boot Camp for Girls, held by the BSA Pacific Harbors Council, was the best place to start.
“This is an opportunity for girls to welcome into Scouting,” said Amanda Lafferty, assistant council commissioner for family Scouting and an organizer of the 3-day event. “We wanted to give them the skills to prepare them for Scouts BSA for when they come in in February.”
On the first night, after being divided into patrols, the girls decided on group names. They came up with a chant. They decorated a flag.
Soon enough, they began to open up and make friends.
Along the way, they discovered that when it came to their reasons for joining Boy Scouts, they had a lot more in common than they thought.
The decision to accept girls
Come February, girls ages 11 and up officially will be able to join the organization, don the uniforms and earn the badges.
The organization made the announcement in May that it would drop the “Boy” in Boy Scouts of American and become Scouts BSA.
The interest is already there. As of September, more than 5,300 girls signed up for Cub Scouts in the Western States region of BSA, which includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, California and Arizona.
According to a 2018 report by BSA, 113 girls joined as Cub Scouts in the the Pacific Harbors Council region, which covers units from Chehalis to Federal Way and from the Washington coast to the Cascade Foothills.
One of those girls is 10-year-old Bronwyn Khan of South Prairie. Bronwyn and her mother, CoreyAnn Khan, drive all the way to Edgewood as members of Pack 526, which had signed up for BSA’s Early Adopter program. The program allows girls ages 11 and under to join Cub Scouts.
The pack Bronwyn had been volunteering at previously did not have the program.
“We were very fortunate that we have the Edgewood Pack 526,” CoreyAnn said. “From the get-go they were like, “Sign us up. How do we get involved?’ They’re very open and excited about the process.”
CoreyAnn said that girls joining BSA is a positive thing.
“There’s a lot of competition for children’s time,” she said. “A lot of kids are over-scheduled, they’re overextended, so this makes it an easy way for parents to be able to participate in the Scouting process with their entire family, both girls and boys.”
After volunteering at Boy Scouts to be with her friends, Bronwyn was happy to finally be acknowledged as part of the group.
“I definitely think that there should be a lot more people who are more welcoming to girls in Cub Scouts or girls coming into Boy Scouts, because I really enjoyed it and I know other girls who are in my pack are enjoying it,” Bronwyn said.
Leveling the playing field
On the first day of camp, the girls were asked to raise their hands if they knew someone in Scouts. All except one girl did.
It’s a common theme, said Scout leaders, that the girls joining BSA come from BSA families. It’s also likely they were participating in the same activities as their family members, like campouts and pinewood derbies.
They just didn’t get the credit for it.
“Girls have been informally participating in Scouting for a really long time,” Lafferty said. “This gives them an opportunity to finally get the recognition for what they’ve already done.”
Lafferty, a Puyallup resident whose 7-year-old daughter McAllister is a Cub Scout, grew up in a Scouting family. But joining the organization is a chance she never got that many girls, her daughter included, will now have.
“These girls are going to have the opportunity to earn the rank of Eagle just as their male counterparts have in the past,” she said.
A handful of girls over the weekend said they want to be among the first to achieve the Eagle Scout rank.
Misha Brown is one of them. At 13, her father and uncle earned their Eagle Scout rank. Her brother is currently working toward it.
“I want to show him up,” said Brown, a Lakewood resident.
Kaitlin Riggin is another. Coming from a Scouting family, the 16-year-old also earned the Gold Award as a Girl Scout. The Gold Award is the highest award a Girl Scout can achieve, similar to the Eagle Scout rank.
“I want to do both because there’s not always equal recognition of the two,” Riggin said. “They’re claimed to be equal, but they’re not always presented as equal. So it would mean a lot to me to be an Eagle Scout as well as a Gold Award winner because then I would have the same opportunities.”
It can take anywhere from two to four years to earn an Eagle Scout rank, but older girls who join the organization in February can apply for an extension.
“There’s a whole subset of girls who are going to be Gold Award winners and Eagle Scouts,” said CoreyAnn. “They’re going to be very assertive, very confident and they’re going to lead. They’re going to be forward-thinking and they’re going to be the next generation.”
By the end of the weekend, the girls who attended BSA Boot Camp knew each other well. They’re better prepared, now, for February.
“These girls are gonna be the ones who are going to start leading the troops when they come in,” Lafferty said. “These girls are going to have the opportunity to get what people in my generation didn’t get, and I’m really excited for them to be able to do that. They’re going to be the pioneers for Scouting in the USA.”