The Boys Scouts are no longer just a boys' organization, with the launch of the region's first all-girls troop in Niagara County and a few others across Western New York.
Under a national change in policy enacted in February, the lines have been blurred as girls are now allowed to join the newly christened Scouts BSA, formerly known as the Boy Scouts of America.
Melissa Moore, the mother of a boy scout and a former assistant troop leader is now the scoutmaster for Troop 824, a Scouts BSA girl troop in Sanborn with nine members
“Girl Scouts definitely has a great place for the girls. A lot of the girls in our troop had brothers. They wanted to do camping and some different things girl scouts don’t do,” said Moore.
The Girl Scout organization - distinct from Scouts BSA- stresses that " both organizations build character and teach life skills and teamwork, but do so in very different ways," according to Alison Wilcox, CEO of Girl Scouts of Western New York. The Girl Scouts program concentrates on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), Outdoors, Life Skills, and Entrepreneurship
" The Girl Scout way is based on research and over 100 years of experience about how to build confidence and leadership identity in girls that unite the whole family and build a network of support for girls. We think girls are best served in an all-girl, girl led, safe space," Wilcox said in a prepared statement.
The girls in Scouts BSA Troop 824 begin and end their meetings with the boys’ troop, join camping and jamboree trips, and have a chance to become an Eagle Scout, but it’s not a co-ed program. There are strict rules from national to keep things separate to work on projects and merit badges.
“We line up by patrols. The girls have their own patrol – called the UFOs. The girls came up with that,” said Moore.
The Boy Scouts of America changed its rules to allow girls on February 1st and Kendra Gaynor, Greater Niagara Frontier Council District Commissioner and BSA Troop for Girls Committee Chair says her local BSA troop in Sanborn was the first to welcome them.
“I had the paperwork filled out in my hands. I was standing at the door at the council office the minute we could turn it in,” said Gaynor.
Gaynor admits she was the one to get the girl troop started.
“It was a joint effort, but It was my brainchild. I never say no,” said Gaynor.
She said there are now four girl troops, including others in Clarence, Amherst and Grand Island all in the Niagara Frontier Council.
Gaynor said she was a Girl Scout growing up and helped to start the Daisy program for girls, but she said the BSA offers something different.
“We do a lot more outdoor activities. We do a lot more leadership development, which girl scouts do, but we do it in a different way.” Said Gaynor.
The members of the Sanborn troop are energized by their new troop – the UFOs and wear a little space alien patch on their uniforms.
“United Female Oddballs,” say the girls in chorus.
“It describes us in three words,” said Kylee Jones.
“We’re weird, but proud of it,” said Becka Seefried, 16, of Clarence.
“We’re here to stay,” said Evelyn Majewski.
Thirteen-year-old Evelyn and 12-year-old Kylee are both students at Edward Town Middle School in the Niagara-Wheatfield School District. They both have brothers in the Sanborn troop.
Kylee said she saw how much fun the boys were having as they earned badges and moved up the ranks–
“Seeing that smile as he moved up the ranks, I said, ‘Oh, I want that feeling,” she said laughing.
Evelyn, is the group’s patrol leader and had already earned some family badges in geology and astronomy. She has plans for her own badges.
“I’d really like to learn more about home repairs and carpentry and woodwork and building,” said Evelyn.
Thirteen-year-old Camille May of Clarence Middle School said she plans to stay in both girls scouts and her new boy scout troop.
For 16-year-old Clarence High Schooler Becka, joining the new troop was about self-discovery
“You get to do a lot of camping. You get to meet a lot of new people. You get to figure out who you want to be and what you want to do when you go to college,” said Becka.
The Greater Niagara Frontier Council governs scout troops from Youngstown to Hamburg. For girls who want to learn more about scout troops in their area, more information is available online at www.wnyscouting.org