It’s Boy Scouts vs. Girl Scouts

GSUSA looks to ‘dou­ble down’ on its com­mit­ment to em­pow­er­ment

The Garden Island - - Morning Briefing - David Crary

NEW YORK — Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts pledge to be friendly and help­ful. But their par­ent or­ga­ni­za­tions may find that prom­ise hard to keep as they head into a po­ten­tially bit­ter com­pe­ti­tion trig­gered by the Boy Scouts of Amer­ica’s dra­matic move to ad­mit girls through­out its ranks.

The BSA’s ini­tia­tive, an­nounced Wed­nes­day, has al­ready chilled what had been a mostly cor­dial re­la­tion­ship between the two youth groups since the Girl Scouts of the USA was founded in 1912, two years af­ter the Boy Scouts.

“We have al­ways ex­isted in a space with com­peti­tors,” the Girl Scout’s chief cus­tomer of­fi­cer, Lisa Mar­gosian, said Thurs­day in an in­ter­view. “What hap­pened yes­ter­day is that we have an­other new com­peti­tor.”

Rather than al­ter­ing its mes­sage, Mar­gosian said, the Girl Scouts will “dou­ble down” with a com­mit­ment to em­pow­er­ing girls.

“We be­lieve strongly in the im­por­tance of the all-girl, girl-led and girl-friendly en­vi­ron­ment that Girl Scouts pro­vides,” the GSUSA said, de­scrib­ing it­self as “the best girl lead­er­ship or­ga­ni­za­tion in the world.”

The Boy Scouts’ of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment of their new plan made no men­tion of the Girl Scouts, although BSA board Chair­man Ran­dall Stephen­son said girls should have the chance to ben­e­fit from his or­ga­ni­za­tion’s “out­stand­ing lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment pro­grams.”

The BSA’s chief scout ex­ec­u­tive, Michael Sur­baugh, said in an in­ter­view that the Girl Scouts of­fered “great pro­grams” but ar­gued that many par­ents viewed the two sets of pro­grams as sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent and wanted the op­tion of choos­ing between them for their daugh­ters.

Un­der the Boy Scouts’ new plan, Cub Scout dens — the small­est unit — will be sin­gle-gen­der, ei­ther all-boys or all-girls. The larger Cub Scout packs will have the op­tion to re­main sin­gle gen­der or wel­come both gen­ders. A pro­gram for older girls — mir­ror­ing the Boy Scout cur­ricu­lum — is ex­pected to start in 2019 and will en­able girls to earn the cov­eted rank of Ea­gle Scout.

The Girl Scouts learned back in Jan­uary that the Boy Scouts were con­sid­er­ing open­ing their ranks to girls, Mar­gosian said.

“They never reached out to let us know what was hap­pen­ing,” she said. “Given our his­tory, as a courtesy, they could have let us know.”

Jan Barker, the long-serv­ing CEO of the Girl Scouts’ Heart of Michi­gan Coun­cil, sug­gested that Boy Scout pro­gram­ming would not be ap­pro­pri­ate for many girls.

“The Boy Scouts’ ap­proach is very mil­i­taris­tic and top-down, and I don’t know if that’s the best envi- ron­ment for girls to feel nur­tured,” said Barker, whose base is Kala­ma­zoo, Michi­gan. “Girls and boys are wired dif­fer­ently — you can’t just put out the same cur­ricu­lum.”

Barker noted that many of the older girls in her coun­cil were in­ter­ested in talk­ing about is­sues such as the sex­ual-as­sault prob­lem on col­lege cam­pus. She ques­tioned whether that was an is­sue of con­cern to boys in the Boy Scouts.

The new chal­lenge from the Boy Scouts is only the lat­est in a string of dif­fi­cul­ties faced by the Girl Scouts over the past 15 years. There was a wrench­ing re­align­ment in 2006-2009 that slashed the num­ber of lo­cal coun­cils from 312 to 112. There have been lay­offs at many coun­cils and at the na­tional head­quar­ters as the or­ga­ni­za­tion grap­pled with a large deficit. And there have been deep rifts between lead­er­ship and grass­roots mem­bers over the di­rec­tion of pro­gram­ming and ef­forts by many coun­cils to sell sum­mer camps.

Suellen Nelles, who heads the Far­thest North Girl Scout Coun­cil in Fair­banks, Alaska, sug­gested that the se­ries of problems caused the Girl Scout lead­er­ship to ne­glect their re­la­tion­ship with the Boy Scouts.

“All of our is­sues have weak­ened us to the point where the Boy Scouts now see op­por­tu­ni­ties,” she said.

Nelles also said she was em­bar­rassed by the harsh tone of some GSUSA state­ments as­sail­ing the Boy Scouts, such as one writ­ten this week by Latino civic leader Charles Gar­cia, a new mem­ber of Girl Scouts’ na­tional board.

KATIE GREENE / THE GRAND RAPIDS PRESS

Natalie Benson, 5, and Holly Sweezer, 6, carry ex­tra flags as Boy and Girl Scouts place flags on each of the 5,000 head­stones at the Grand Rapids Vet­er­ans State Ceme­tery in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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