In a move to open the door to girls, the Boy Scouts of America announced a name change for its flagship program on Wednesday to reflect that it will no longer be a boys-only organization.
For more than a century, the program for 11- to 17-year-olds was known simply as Boy Scouts. Next year, the name will officially be changed to Scouts BSA.
“We hope the name change is inviting,” said Kent York, spokesman for the Northern Star Council, which oversees scouting in 21 counties in Minnesota and four in Wisconsin.
Opening the organization to girls comes at a time when many youth organizations are seeing drops in membership in part because of competing interests with sports leagues and busy family schedules. Nationally, about 2.3 million young people participate in the Boy Scouts, down from 2.6 million in 2013 and more than 4 million in past peak years.
Nationwide, the Girl Scouts also have seen membership dip from just over 2 million youth members and about 800,000 adult members to 1.76 million girls and more than 780,00 adult members.
Now both scouting organizations will vie for girls.
The Boy Scouts of America organization is responding to the wants and needs of families looking to do more things together, York said.
The Girl Scouts aren’t likely to flinch.
“Our intention is not to go coed or serve boys, because there are so many girls that can benefit from the program we have,” said Tish Bolger, chief executive for the Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin River Valleys. “Girls are in coed situations most of their lives, and this gives them the opportunity for something different.”
Some people assume that Girl Scouts don’t offer the same activities and leadership opportunities as Boy Scouts, Bolger said. But they would be wrong, she added, pointing out that Girl Scouts are involved in high-adventure outdoor activities and camping.
Sahana Vandayer, 15, has been a Girl Scout since first grade and has no interest in joining the Boy Scouts.
“I know that in the Girl Scout community I’m going to be surrounded by other female role models and other girls who are passionate about the same things I am,” she said. “I can see myself in others whether it be through a volunteer or a friend who also is a Girl Scout. … It’s an empowering program.”
But Grace Jurek, who will soon be 7, can’t wait to get her blue Cub Scout shirt and officially join the same pack as her 9-year-old brother, Oliver. The Cub Scouts began admitting girls earlier this year; Scouts BSA will officially open to girls Feb. 1.
Grace has attended her brother’s Cub Scout meetings since she was 3. When she was in kindergarten, she decided to continue to attend the Cub Scout meetings rather than join Girl Scouts, said her mother, Vicki Jurek.
When the Cub Scouts officially admitted girls in March, her daughter was quick to submit the paperwork to officially join.
“She was so excited she nearly jumped out of her seat,” Vicki Jurek said. Her daughter is not only friends with the boys in the group, but two of her girlfriends already are members, and two more will join next fall.
“All she ever wanted to do was to put a blue shirt on and look exactly like her brother,” Vicki Jurek said.