The Boy Scouts, which was founded in 1909 by British Army Officer Robert Baden-Powell, isn’t the old boys’ club it used to be.
In Weehawken, several girls didn’t think twice about joining Scouts BSA.
At an inaugural Court of Honor that was held on May 20, 18 girls were recognized as founding members of Boy Scouts of America Troop 812, one of New Jersey’s first all-girl Boy Scout troops.
Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are two entirely independent entities, defined by a lot more than whether or not they sell cookies.
Until now, they’ve been composed of either all boys, or all girls. Each organization offers unique awards, and has unique requirements which must be met to progress through the ranks.
At the national level, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) reached a decision in October 2017 to allow girls to become members of the organization’s flagship program, by establishing all-girl troops starting in February. Those all-girl troops wouldn’t be entirely segregated from boys’ troops. Historically, Scouts BSA fosters multi-troop collaboration at camp-outs and community service projects.
Boy Scouts of America changed its name to “Scouts BSA” to accommodate the change in membership.
In 2018, Cub Scouts also allowed girls to participate in its programs as a way of integrating girls into Boy Scouts. Kids age out of Cub Scouts after sixth grade.
Inclusion is divisive
The former Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts of the USA coexisted peacefully, before inter-organizational conflict generated national headlines and ongoing legal battles.
National reps for the Girl Scouts of the USA argue that the new policy of allowing girls into Scouts BSA will undercut prospective Girl Scouts and shrink their own membership.
Girl Scouts of the USA sued Scouts BSA, claiming that the name change infringed upon Girl Scouts’ trademark. Girl Scouts of the USA argues that dropping “boy” from the title, will erode Girl Scouts’ distinctive branding and membership.
Girl Scouts also claimed that Scouts BSA’s dropping of “boy” in the new trademark and marketing materials caused public confusion. Some officials claimed that there was a misconception that the two organizations had merged, which is not the case.
Some national Boy Scout leaders also feared that the new policy might change the nature of their own scouting programs.
This controversy is playing out against the backdrop of a much larger issue. Scouts BSA is also being hit with thousands of lawsuits across the country stemming from allegations of sexual abuse that emerged when the organization released its “ineligible volunteer files.” That list, which Boy Scouts of America had been compiling since the 1940s, was acquired through a court order. It identified more than 7,000 alleged child sex abusers who were immediately banned from Boy Scouts involvement.
More than 12,000 victims were named. Fifty-two alleged sexual abusers in New Jersey were named by the Boy Scouts of America, though none were involved with troops in Hudson County.
Opting for the new path
Despite the conflict, the 18 founding girls in Troop 812 are getting the word out on the newly chartered group. They want to improve their community, with the organization that they feel best serves their personal missions.
At the Court of Honor, all 18 Scouts were awarded founder’s patches for having chartered a new troop.
“We’re all very emotional. It took a lot to get this night together,” said Grace Denfield, Troop 812’s assistant scoutmaster. “But nothing compares to the work they put into making this troop what it is. The precedence that they’ve set, the standards that they’ve set since their conception. We’re honored to continue the tradition of excellent Scouting in Weehawken and setting the standard for girl-led troops.”
All together now
The leadership of the new troop is young. All three assistant scoutmasters, Grace Denfield, Hayden Lester, and Maya Adasse, are in their 20s. They worked with regional scouting leaders to get things started.
But they credited Weehawken High School senior Nina Tremblay with most of the heavy lifting on the recruitment front. Tremblay was named a senior patrol leader that night.
“Maya Adasse came up to me and said, ‘do you want to be a Boy Scout?’ I said sure,” Tremblay said. “We went to a leadership training meeting on February 1st, and I just fell in love with all of the people, the perspectives, and the philosophies I encountered. I wanted to bring it back to Weehawken. So, the next Monday, I was making announcements in all of my classes at Weehawken High, trying to get as many girls to show up as I can to make this happen.”
Troop 812 held its first weekly meeting on March 28 and participated in the Weehawken Elks’ “Walk out on Drugs,” its first public-service event.
The members are divided into three patrols, with names rooted in mythology: The Sirens, The Nymphs of Callisto, and Andromeda’s Vendetta.
Opening new doors
Regional organization leaders present at the Court of Honor expressed hope and admiration for the 18 girls who joined.
Jay Delgado, a representative from the Three Rivers District, worked with the troop alongside a Boy Scout Troop that’s been in Weehawken since 2008. Delgado, who was a Scout himself, believes the new charter will have a positive impact on the community.
Kimberly Kingsbury, a Weehawken Elk, said she was ecstatic that the new troop would be chartered at the local lodge. The troop plans on working with the Elks on a number of volunteering fronts, including spending time with senior veterans and people with special needs.
Erica Conway, an assistant council commissioner for all BSA troops affiliated with Northern New Jersey, said that though she will resign for personal reasons, she will oversee incorporating girls into the organization she’s spent years leading.
There were “some whispers from national that they might be involving girls, and asked if I wanted to be involved,” Conway said. “I said, ‘oh, you duped me, you know I’m gonna say yes to that.’”
Conway met with regional leaders, forwarding information she received from the national level. Meeting with prospective Scouts of what is now Troop 812 gave her confidence in the change.
“I stepped into the ring because I didn’t know what the reaction was going to be. But it’s worth it,” Conway said. “If you pick up the Scouting Handbook and read this program, it is one hundred percent applicable to boys and girls. The values, the opportunities to meet new people and connect, and to learn new things. My children grew up in Scouting, and I know there are thousands and thousands of girls across the country who will benefit from these programs.”
She said the change was not about what Scouts BSA can offer girls, but about what girls can offer BSA.
“Change is really difficult for some people,” Conway said. “They didn’t want anything to happen to this wonderful program that people grew up with in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, and they wanted it to feel the same, even if it’s not necessarily going to look the same. I thought we were doing something wonderful for the girls of New Jersey and the United States. We’re the lucky ones. We’re not giving the program to them, they’re giving everything to this program, and giving so much to us.”
For updates on this and more stories check hudsonreporter.com or follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mike Montemarano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.