By Isaac Hamlet, GTNS News
Even though her father and brother were involved with the program, Keely Kangas was never allowed to join Boy Scouts.
“As a young lady growing up, I wanted more than anything to participate,” Kangas said. “I saw my dad’s merit badge sash and heard stories of things he got to do and that’s what made me want to join.”
Now, as a senior district executive at Boy Scouts of America, she will be able to help young girls of today be a part of the program she was never allowed to enroll in. Kangas, who works out of the Burlington office for the Mississippi Valley Council Boy Scouts, has an area of operation which includes parts of Henry County.
As of February 2019, the Boy Scouts of America opened the doors to girls like Kangas who want to join their Scouts BSA program. This follows the same move toward inclusivity occurring in fall 2018 with the organization’s Cub Scouts program.
“It’s been in progress (of becoming more gender inclusive) for a while,” said Sarah Dawson, CEO of the Hawkeye Area Council Boy Scouts. “I’ve been a part of the Boy Scouts for about 20 years, and this is my fifth council I’ve been a part of. In every one of those we’ve had families and parents asking for the ability for their daughters and siblings to participate in scouting.”
Dawson is in charge of the program in the Hawkeye Area Council, which covers seven counties including Washington and Johnson. Girls who have wanted to participate in the staff have been allowed to, they just haven’t been permitted to earn badges before this, she said.
“It’s something that parents have been asking for for a while,” she said. “When I was in Wisconsin, I even had one of my very large Cub Scout packs create their own pink patches that they handed out to the sisters participating in the activities.”
The Girl Scouts Program, a separate organization from the Boy Scouts, has taken issue with this recent move for inclusion. Late last year, the Girl Scouts levied a lawsuits against The Boy Scouts of America. The Girls Scouts National President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan accused the Boy Scouts of attempting to steal away girls who otherwise might have signed up for Girl Scouts. The crux of their legal argument is that the Girl Scouts is the only organization that is allowed to use the term “Scouts” for groups with females in it.
“We’re very supportive of all other youth organizations,” Dawsons said of the situation. “With 4-H and the Girl Scouts there are many great organizations out there and we don’t want to detract for any of the things that they’re doing, we’re just offering another program.”
David Lane, the assistant Scout executive with the Mississippi Valley Council, which covers 13 counties between Illinois and Iowa, pointed out gender-inclusive programs are hardly a new thing for the organization.
“Girls have been involved with the Boy Scouts of America for decades,” Lane said. “So the idea of girls being involved isn’t new for us, it’s just new for the Boy Scout program.”
Lane cited the Venturing and Exploring programs spefically, the former of which was created in 1998 and has been gender-inclusive since that beginning. The latter, Exploring, has been gender-inclusive since at least the early ‘70s by Dawson’s estimation. Last fall, the Cub Scouts also became more inclusive, making Boy Scouts their final program to allow females to join.
Lane clarified that the troops for boys and girls will remain separate, it’s just that girls will now have the same opportunity to experience the scouting program that was restricted to boys in the past.
“There were strong findings that suggest boys and girls thrive in a single gender environment,” Lane said, referring to studies and analysis done by the organization before the final decision to open the door for girls to join. “So we want to make sure we have that as part of our program.”
The shift this past February was accompanied by a name change from “Boy Scouts” to “Scouts BSA”; however, this is just a change in the name of the program and not the overall organization which will maintain the title “Boy Scouts of America.”
As of early March, Dawson reported that there were more than 30 girls signing up for Scouts BSA in her district, and Lane reported that his first female troop had been chartered in Quincy, Ill., composed of five girls. He hopes the Quincy troop ends up being the first of multiple programs in the coming months and wants to see similar troops appear in Mt. Pleasant, Burlington, Keokuk and Ft. Madison in the coming months.
“I see the girls jumping right into the programs we offer: the BB guns, the archery, the camping,” Lane said. “They’re just as excited about it, in some cases more excited about it than our male participants.”
Currently, there are no female troops in Henry or Washington counties, but Kangas has heard from a handful of individuals who are interested starting something up.
“The first step (of creating a troop) is the most important step, and that’s volunteering,” Kangas said. “It takes a volunteer to want to make things happen in order for a program to run effectively.”
Before a troop can be made, Kangas would require at least two interested individuals to act as scoutmaster and assistant scoutmaster respectively for the group; at least one of these individuals would be required to be a woman.
Kangas expects that in the coming months, as the older girls currently enrolled in the Cub Scouts program age up, the county will have their first female troop.
“My hope is that any young lady interested in building outdoor skills, increasing her repertoire or wanting to be a better citizen will think about joining,” Kangas said. “If I’d had the opportunity to do that as a kid, I would have.”