Troop 438 among state’s first Scouts BSA troops for girls

Troop 438 among state’s first Scouts BSA troops for girls

Troop 438 among state’s first Scouts BSA troops for girls

NORTH SMITHFIELD – In 2017, the Boy Scouts of America made headlines when they announced that for the first time in its 109-year history, the organization’s two main programs – Cub Scouts for younger boys and Boy Scouts for ages 11 to 17 – would open to girls.

Last spring, several Cub Scout packs around northern Rhode Island got a jump on the changes when they became some of the first in the state to allow girls into their ranks. Now, almost one year later, the national organization is ready to launch changes to its program for participants ages 11 to 17, and a group of young women in North Smithfield are prepared to accept that challenge head on.

Troop 438 North Smithfield, based at Scouter’s Hall, is a new troop for girls ages 11 to 17. Though the troop will be under the heading of the Boy Scouts of America, it will operate as a separate, girls-only troop with its own scoutmaster and leadership. Troop 1139 Slatersville, the area’s existing Boy Scout troop, will continue to operate as a separate troop for boys only, though both troops will be considered “Scouts BSA” troops under the organization’s new model.

Heather Robertson, who currently serves as a den leader in Cub Scout Pack 7 Slatersville, will serve as committee chair of the new troop. According to Robertson, the troop, which officially launches Feb. 1, will operate in the same way as any existing Boy Scout troop with a parent committee, committee chair and scoutmaster. Josh Thibeault, a North Smithfield resident whose daughter is one of seven girls currently signed up for the new troop, will serve as scoutmaster.

“We’re starting from scratch, as in we don’t have any resources to begin with, but as far as knowing what to do, BSA’s existed for 100 years so we’re just filling it in,” said Robertson.

The new troop, she said, will allow girls to achieve the same goals and milestones as boys in the BSA program, including merit badges, rank promotions and camping at Yawgoog Scout Reservation in Hopkinton. Unlike in Cub Scouts, where single-gender “dens” can be combined into one “pack” with both boys and girls, single-gender troops at the older level will be separate, though their requirements will remain the same. It’s a system, she said, that allows girls to achieve the same opportunities as Boy Scouts while maintaining elements of a single-gender system.

“They’re separate. The girls are just having the same opportunities, they’re not doing this with other boys,” she explained.

While the rebranding as “Scouts BSA” has drawn criticism from some – including the Girl Scouts of the USA, who filed a lawsuit over the name change in November following concerns the shift would draw girls away from its ranks – Robertson said the change has met positive feedback in the North Smithfield community. She pointed out girls have long been involved in BSA’s Venturing and other scouting programs, though these lesser-known programs do not offer all the same opportunities as the Boy Scouts program, with the rank of Eagle Scout notably missing up until now.

“Really what the big difference now is these scouts are going to be using the same book as the existing scouts, they’re going to be doing the exact same requirements and they are going to be able to earn the elusive Eagle award,” she said.

Mike Marseglia, a committee member whose daughter, Amelia, will join Troop 438 in February, also highlighted the additional opportunities for girls that the changes will bring. Like Robertson, he pointed out the prestige and sense of community that comes with attaining the rank of Eagle Scout, a community that was previously closed to women.

“That’s always been kind of off-limits, but now the Scouts BSA program is going to change all of that. It’s going to open up that opportunity and some other opportunities as well to the girls where they can start at a younger age,” he said.

Marseglia is familiar with those opportunities. As a teenager, he earned the rank of Eagle Scout and now serves as a member of the Yawgoog Alumni Association. He’s also experienced the program as a parent – his son is a member of Troop 1 Manville – and said he’s happy to be able to share those experiences with his daughter.

“There was a time at Yawgoog Scout Reservation when they wouldn’t even allow women past the front gates, let alone camp there. To actually see the camp change over the years, it’s great that she gets to do that,” he said. “As a parent, I’m just so happy that she gets to do all that stuff.”

According to Robertson, Troop 438 plans to meet on Friday evenings in Scouter’s Hall. The troop will hold an informational session at the hall on Friday, Jan. 18, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

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