Alexander Robbins II was a Boy Scout den leader when his sons Alex III and Conner started as Cub Scouts. Little sister Camille never missed out.
“She’s essentially been in the Boy Scouts since she was 3,” said Robbins, of Lithonia. His now-7-year-old daughter can soon join officially if she chooses. The Boy Scouts of America has announced girls will be able to participate at all levels of programming, from Cub Scout through Eagle Scout.
“This decision is true to the BSA’s mission and core values outlined in the Scout Oath and Law. The values of Scouting — trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example — are important for both young men and women,” Michael Surbaugh, the BSA’s Chief Scout Executive, said in a statement.
“I’m all for it,” said Robbins, now a Cubmaster, who spoke to the AJC by phone while he was en route to a Scout meeting. “I look at it almost like it was a sport. You have cheerleading and volleyball. They are both sports kids can participate in, and those things can overlap but they are distinct programs.”
While he welcomed Wednesday’s announcement, he doesn’t think the Boy Scouts’ allowing girls will impact Girl Scout rosters.
“I don’t think Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts will be mutually exclusive,” said Robbins, whose daughter is now a Brownie who he suspects will end up active in both Girl and Boy Scout activities. “There will always be a place for Girl Scouts.”
Most definitely, said former Atlanta resident Dianne Belk, a Girl Scout in her youth who became the founding chair of the Juliette Gordon Low Society. The philanthropic organization, named for the Girl Scouts of the USA’s founder, is for donors who have named the Girl Scouts in their wills or estate plans.
“I grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere, with no role models,” said Belk, who is from rural Mississippi. “Only because of Girl Scouts did I succeed in life. What I love about Girl Scouts, being a product of that cotton field in Mississippi, is they prepare young girls to enter the world as tomorrow’s leaders, with confidence, character and courage.”
Now a San Diego resident, Belk spoke to the AJC in a phone interview from New York, where she had traveled on Girl Scouts business. The Boy Scouts’ announcement didn’t take her by surprise.
“Regarding this Boy Scout thing, I’m a businesswoman. I get that every business has to find a way to stay revenue positive,” she said. “I don’t criticize the Boy Scouts. My focus is always about the Girl Scouts.”
The Boy Scouts’ statement did not mention the Girl Scouts, founded in Savannah.
“Girl Scouts will continue to be an organization that is looking out for the best interest of girls,” said John Smiles, senior director of marketing and communications for Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta. “We’re going to continue to do what we’ve always done. Here at Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta, it’s business as usual.”
Girl Scouts of the USA issued a statement: “Only Girl Scouts has more than 100 years of experience helping girls tap into their leadership potential by reinforcing and extending the skills they learn in school in a supportive, encouraging environment in which they feel safe to just be themselves. At Girl Scouts, we are girl experts, and we work every day to help girls develop the courage, confidence and character necessary to make the world a better place.”
The Boy Scouts’ move comes after many requests, officials said.
“The BSA’s record of producing leaders with high character and integrity is amazing. I’ve seen nothing that develops leadership skills and discipline like this organization,” national board chairman Randall Stephenson said in a statement. “It is time to make these outstanding leadership development programs available to girls.”
Metro Atlanta Girl Scout leader Alicia Beckett lives in a house full of Scouts. Her daughter, Faith, is a Girl Scout, her older son, Will, and husband, Bryan, both attained the rank of Eagle Scout, and her younger son, Luke, is completing his Eagle Scout requirements.
“I see this as being potentially very positive for girls,” said Beckett, who was a Girl Scout herself as a child. Because of the demands of high school, she said, “we see a lot of girls dropping out before attaining their Gold Award.”
That is the highest level in Girl Scouts, a counterpart of sorts to Eagle Scout status. While Beckett was excited at the prospect of having three young Eagle Scouts in her home, she remains committed to Girl Scouts programming. Faith, her 10-year-old fifth-grader, will stick with her troop.
“We have an established troop, and these girls have been together since kindergarten,” Beckett said. “If she had started with Boy Scouts or Cub Scouts from the beginning, it could be a different story.”
Faith’s assessment of the Boy Scouts’ announcement: “It’s kind of weird. It’s called ‘Boy’ Scouts. And we already have Girl Scouts.”