'This is history': Local girls among first to join newly-expanded Scouts BSA
Maggie Veith spent most of her life watching her older brothers work their way through Boy Scouts.
When the program started accepting girls as members this past February, the 11-year-old Veith was stoked.
"Yes, I need to join right now," she said. She even asked her mom, Jenny Veith, to be her Scoutmaster.
Over the past two months, 31 all-girl troops have formed in the Twin Cities metro, including Troops 7071 and 7559 in Woodbury, with 110 in progress elsewhere in the region.
Like Maggie, many of the girls watched older brothers go through Boy Scouts and had parents as group leaders. They grew up on the periphery of the organization, developing a love for the outdoors, but until now, couldn't join.
"This is history," said Dick Hansen, chartered organization representative at The Grove United Methodist Church in Woodbury which hosts the new all-girl Troop 7071.
A push from all sides
Those involved in Scouting say the push to include girls came from inside and outside the program.
"Families had been asking to keep their boys and girls together in the same program," Hansen said. "(They) said their girls wanted to continue in BSA and told the leaders to do something about it."
According to a Boy Scouts of America spokeswoman, 87 percent of parents not involved with the organization also expressed interest in a BSA-like program for their daughters.
The organization has allowed girls in some of its offerings since the 1970s, but it wasn't until 2018 that it officially welcomed girls into Cub Scouts, their program for 5-10 year olds. That same year, it announced Boy Scouts would follow suit and be rebranded as Scouts BSA.
"We formed in 1910 and if you were forming a youth organization today ... would you have the same composition as you would back in 1910?" said Kent York, director of marketing and communications for the regional Scouting organization Northern Star Council. "The answer is you would take advantage of current conditions and what families are looking for."
Northern Star Council, like most Scouts BSA councils, has seen a steady decline in membership recently, York said.
In Lakeville, newly formed all-girls Troop 7111 currently has nine members, but hopes to double in size by next year, said Ed D'Avignon, the Scoutmaster and founder. He acknowledged, though, it can be difficult for troops to compete with sports and other youth opportunities.
"That's been a trend for years with many different youth activities, not just Scouts ... those programs are a lot smaller than they used to be," he said.
York said the decision to allow girls to join Boy Scouts was not based on decline, but the organization does see an opportunity to grow with a new group of kids. Northern Star Council currently has 383 Scouts BSA troops and hopes the roughly 1,400 girls in Cub Scouts continue on to Scouts BSA.
"With the focus right now, we haven't focused on a numerical goal or anything like that," he said. "We believe that it will make an impact."
In Woodbury, Scoutmasters looked to the future of the organization with optimism. Scott Peterson is Scoutmaster for all-boys Troop 9559, which is linked with Troop 7559.
"Having girls come in just provides a new type of challenge, which is good," Peterson said. "Bottom line, it's just an opportunity."
Troops on the ground in Woodbury
While planning an upcoming camping trip, the girls in Troop 7071 needed to come up with a menu of what to cook for their meals.
Scoutmaster Veith suggested they ask the boys in linked Troop 9091 what they usually made, but the girls were insistent they could come up with their own menu.
Veith and other scoutmasters say that virtually everything has stayed the same since the addition of girls — from Scout-led decision making to programming requirements. The boys, though, are giving a helping hand to ease the learning curve.
"The girls will be coming alongside the boys for a while in order to have them learn how to do the skills and be able to be mentored by the boys leadership," Veith said. "And then if we get big enough, then we can look at meeting in our own place or on a different night or something like that."
The collaboration between boys and girls in the troops has gone well so far, local scoutmasters said.
"I don't feel like there's been any conflicts — the boys are completely accepting of the girls, and they're comfortable just kind of working in tandem, so that's been good," said Robin Solid, scoutmaster for Troop 7559.
Peterson said he had already noticed the girls' confidence and willingness to embrace the program.
"I know that we've got a couple really strong girls — they're raring to lead," he said.