Scout shift on girls draws mixed re­ac­tion in WNY

The Buffalo News - - CITY&REGION - By Stephen T. Wat­son NEWS STAFF RE­PORTER

The de­ci­sion by the Boy Scouts of Amer­ica to al­low girls into the or­ga­ni­za­tion drew a mixed re­sponse in scouting ranks in the Buf­falo Ni­a­gara re­gion.

The head of the re­gion’s largest group for Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts said he thought the change would be well-re­ceived by par­ents of a daugh­ter who wants to fol­low their brother into Cub Scouts.

A vet­eran Boy Scout leader in the North­towns, how­ever, said he wasn’t sure how troops would adapt to the new pol­icy.

And the head of the re­gional Girl Scouts coun­cil said girls are bet­ter served by join­ing the sin­gle­gen­der or­ga­ni­za­tion that has long had their in­ter­ests at heart.

“We just be­lieve the Girl Scouts is the best place for girls, pe­riod,” said Judy Cranston, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Western New York.

The an­nounce­ment that the board of di­rec­tors of the Boy Scouts of Amer­ica had voted unan­i­mously Wed­nes­day to al­low girls into the cen­tury-old or­ga­ni­za­tion stirred a range of re­ac­tions on­line and in scouting or­ga­ni­za­tions na­tion­wide.

The Boy Scouts of Amer­ica said that, be­gin­ning in 2018, girls will

Scouts An auto trade group states that chang­ing the NAFTA rules on au­to­mo­biles will make them more costly and could af­fect work­ers’ jobs. Story on Page B7

be al­lowed into its Cub Scout pro­gram, which had been lim­ited to boys in the first through fifth grades or between the ages of 7 and 10.

Of­fi­cials will an­nounce de­tails on a sep­a­rate pro­gram for older girls next year, and it is ex­pected to be avail­able in 2019.

Russell Etzen­houser, scout ex­ec­u­tive and CEO of the Greater Ni­a­gara Fron­tier Coun­cil, which rep­re­sents Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts in Erie County and the western third of Ni­a­gara County, said girls had joined some Cub Scout packs in other parts of the coun­try in re­cent years, although he wasn’t aware of this hap­pen­ing in his coun­cil.

The coun­cil serves slightly more than 3,000 Cub Scouts and a lit­tle more than 2,500 Boy Scouts.

Etzen­houser said the new pol­icy grew out of pop­u­lar de­mand. “There def­i­nitely was a pull from par­ents to move in this di­rec­tion,” he said.

The na­tional group, in the spring, floated the idea to Etzen­houser and other re­gional coun­cil lead­ers at a na­tional meet­ing. In the sum­mer, Etzen­houser hosted a se­ries of meet­ings with adult lead­ers of all of the Cub Scout packs and Boy Scout troops in his coun­cil, where lead­ers watched a video pre­pared by the Boy Scouts of Amer­ica that talked about the pro­posed pol­icy change.

“Over­whelm­ingly, the feed­back we got at th­ese meet­ings was that this was the right thing to do,” Etzen­houser said.

Start­ing in fall 2018, lead­ers of Cub Scout packs can choose to op­er­ate as boy-only, girl-only or for both boys and girls, he said. In the third in­stance, the full pack would serve both gen­ders, but each den within the pack would serve only boys or girls, Etzen­houser said.

If a girl tried to join a pack that was for boys only, she would be di­rected to­ward an­other pack that served girls, he said.

“It’s just about giv­ing fam­i­lies op­tions,” Etzen­houser said.

Lit­tle is known about how the Boy Scout pro­gram will work. The Boy Scouts of Amer­ica still are figuring out the de­tails of that ar­range­ment, which won’t be avail­able for two years.

Don Houri­gan, who has served as scout­mas­ter of Troop 104 in the Town of Ton­awanda since 1975, at­tended one of the pol­icy pre­view meet­ings.

He said the change ap­pears to put a lot of the onus on in­di­vid­ual troops to put in place new or­ga­ni­za­tional struc­tures when they ac­cept girls. That can be dif­fi­cult for the vol­un­teer lead­ers and the in­sti­tu­tions that host the troops.

“Most Scout troops are kind of seat-of-the-pants things,” Houri­gan said.

He also said the pre­sen­ta­tion that he heard fo­cused on how to bring girls into meet­ings, and most scouting ac­tiv­i­ties in­volve camp­ing and other ac­tiv­i­ties.

Can girls mix with Boy Scouts on cam­pouts? Ex­plor­ing and other groups are coed al­ready, of course.

“It’s not im­pos­si­ble, but I see it strewn with land mines,” Houri­gan said.

The de­ci­sion comes nearly two months af­ter the Boy Scouts was harshly crit­i­cized by the pres­i­dent of Girl Scouts of the USA for what she said was a “covert cam­paign to re­cruit girls.”

“We’re not re­ally at­tempt­ing to com­pete against the Girl Scouts in any of this,” Etzen­houser said.

Cranston, the lo­cal Girl Scout leader, said she’s not con­cerned about los­ing mem­ber­ship. She said her group, which cov­ers nine coun­ties between Buf­falo and Rochester, has 15,000 girls from kin­der­garten to 12th grade.

She said the Girl Scouts have a long-stand­ing tra­di­tion of pro­gram­ming geared to­ward girls. She also said re­search shows that sin­gle-gen­der pro­grams ben­e­fit girls, who can pull back some­times when mixed in with boys.

“I think our re­sults speak for them­selves,” Cranston said.

Ear­lier this year, the Boy Scouts an­nounced a change in mem­ber­ship re­quire­ments, paving the way for trans­gen­der boys to join the group.

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