Sonoma girls to join Boys Scouts

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Over the course of the past decade, progressive change has swept over the Boy Scouts of America. After ending bans on gay scouts in 2013 and transgender boys in 2017, as of Feb. 1, the program has rebranded itself as Scouts BSA and is officially allowing girls to join, including girls in Sonoma.

Though Cub Scouts became coed in 2018, boys over 10 who aged out were able to move straight to Boy Scouts while girls over 10 went to Girl Scouts.

The difference between Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts is “pretty subjective,” says Charlie Howard-Gibbon. Howard-Gibbon is the council scout executive for Redwood Empire Council and is responsible for all scouting programs in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. “The largest differences are the badge program, and that Boy Scout units are operated under the offices of local organizations,” said Howard-Gibbon. “There are some things that Boy Scouts allow that Girl Scouts don’t do, but I imagine there’s probably a 95 percent overlap.”

Despite the overlap between the two organizations, the differences between Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are still significant enough that many girls want to be part of Boy Scouts, both nationally and in Sonoma.

“The national organization made the decision after thousands of people were surveyed, and there was a pretty strong response,” Howard-Gibbon said.

Sonoma has many scouting options, including Boys Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts and Venturing, but the new Scouts BSA troop will be the first of its kind here.

“I thought it was great,” Shauna Aubin said of the decision. “My daughter has watched her older brothers go through the scouting program, and her dad and I have been involved in scouting for years.” Shauna Aubin is the committee chair for Troop 222 of Boy Scouts and the Cub Scout Pack 16, and is now the new committee chair for the new Scouts BSA in Sonoma. Following the decision to allow girls to join, Aubin’s daughter was excited for the opportunity to sign up.

“She wants to be one of the first girls to get her Gold Award and her Eagle Scout award,” said Aubin. “They’re (now) labeling it the Golden Eagle.” The Gold Award and the Eagle Scout award are the highest honors in Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, respectively.

Despite widespread acceptance and excitement surrounding BSA’s decision, not everyone locally shares the same sentiment.

“Coed groups change the nature of the program, and I’m not in favor of changing the nature of the program,” said Bill Hammett, committee chair for Troop 16 of Boy Scouts.

“Scouting is a terrific program for girls and boys,” Hammett added. “Just not both at the same time.”

Other local scouting leaders have slightly different perspectives on Scouts BSA. Sara Craig is the committee president for Venturing Crew 16. Venturing is a subdivision of Boy Scouts that has always allowed female membership. Craig’s daughter started Crew 16, an all-female Venturing Crew, in 2014 when she aged out of Girl Scouts and wanted to continue scouting.

“I’m conflicted. Both my brothers are Eagle Scouts and my son is on track to be an Eagle Scout, so I think there’s a lot to be said for boys and young men doing outdoor activities together,” said Craig. “Not to say that women shouldn’t, but I think there’s a lot of value added that might not be there if it’s coeducational.”

Although she does have some reservations, Craig still overall supports the idea of a coed branch of scouting. “I just am more a proponent for all-female and all-male scouting groups,” said Craig. “But that’s not to say that a coeducational one couldn’t be as wonderful, but probably in different ways. I think, like anything, it’s accepting change. Some of the old school Boy Scout leaders will probably be a little disgruntled, but in terms of going forward, I think it’s a positive thing.”

Local scouting leaders, including Shauna Aubin, are part of the effort to start a new Scouts BSA troop in Sonoma. The goal is to create a scouting option for all genders that offers the same opportunities, experiences, and structure as traditional Boy Scouts troops. One major draw of Boy Scouts has been its youth leadership structure, as it is largely run by the scouts. Scouts BSA will implement this same leadership model.

Within the Boy Scouts, there is an adult Scoutmaster who helps organize the troop and oversee logistics, but most of the meetings and leadership is run by the scouts themselves, with major roles like Senior Patrol Leaders and Patrol Leaders who run meetings and coordinate activities. Girl Scouts follows a more parent-based leadership model, with up to 10 adults supporting a 20-girl troop. Cub Scouts, for kids kindergarten through fifth grade, is run more similarly to Girl Scouts, with an emphasis on parent and family involvement. There is a large Cub Scout pack with all the kids in the local program, with individual dens of smaller groups divided by age led by parent volunteers.

Another positive about Scouts BSA is that families’ sons and daughters can both participate in the same program at the same time. “Families are busy, and they just don’t want to have to run around town to drop their kids here, here and here,” said Aubin. “If this was going on back when I had my older children, I would’ve loved it.”

Some girls are choosing to stay in Girl Scouts while also signing up for Scouts BSA. “If you want to do both, there’s no reason why you can’t do both,” said Aubin. “Check them both out. See what there is to offer.”

So far, there has been a great deal of interest from girls in Sonoma. Some are Girl Scouts – which has announced no plans to allow male membership – while others are girls who never joined scouting before because the previous options weren’t appealing. Now, they are looking to Scouts BSA to be part of a scouting experience that works for them. “I have kids saying, ‘How do I sign up now?’” said Aubin.

There was an informational and sign-up night for prospective members of Scouts BSA on Feb. 21. Twelve girls attended, and all of them but one (who was too young to join) signed up. “Everyone there was excited about joining,” said Aubin.

The addition of Scouts BSA isn’t meant to take anything away from the existing local scouting groups, but is rather to add another option for kids who want to do group activities in nature.

“(Redwood Empire) currently has six troops that have started up for girls and 13 different coed Cub Scout packs,” Howard-Gibbon said.

“My role (in Venturing) is with young women, and I think we’re going to stay that way, but if there’s a coed group in town, I think that’s awesome. If there’s a girls only group, I think that’s awesome. And if a troop chooses to stay all-male, I think that’s awesome, too. There’s benefits in all of it,” Craig said.

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