Starting last year, Boy Scouts of America made the “bold” and “welcomed” step to allow Cub Scout packs to accept girls into their program, said Tim Walker.

Walker is the cub master of Pack 109 based out of Boone United Methodist Church. Both of Walker’s sons have been involved with the pack, in addition to Walker being an Eagle Scout himself. Up until 2018, the Cub Scouts — organized by the Boy Scouts of America — had been exclusively for boys in kindergarten through fifth grades.

As each pack was given the choice of whether or not to allow girls, Pack 109 — which typically has about 50 to 60 members — decided to open up registration to both genders. The pack had three girls join during this current school year: a kindergartener, a first-grader and a second-grader. While Walker said the pack had hoped the participation from girls would’ve been higher, he said it was a positive experience and the ones that did join were “all in.”

“At that age, all kids like having fun and learning through activity, which is what cub scouts programming is for — to learn leadership skills and life skills through fun activity,” Walker said. “At that age, they’re just having fun and love it.”

The hope is to have the number of girls participating in Cub Scouts grow as it becomes more known that they are eligible to participate, Walker said.

Pack 109 belongs to the BSA’s Old Hickory Council, which includes eight North Carolina counties. Of the council, Watauga packs are included in the Blue Ridge District that also encompasses Ashe County. Hunter Day, the district executive director for the Blue Ridge District, said Pack 109 was joined by one other pack that started to allow girls. Pack 199 out at Henson Chapel United Methodist Church permitted girls to join starting last fall and had five girls join overall. Day said this Cub Scout program change allows more families to be together.

Day explained the area served by Pack 199 experiences grandparents who watch after children or single parents who benefit from being able to bring children of either gender to one place instead of multiple locations for different activities. Day predicted seeing more local packs allowing girls by this fall.

“We’re excited that girls are included in such a great program that only boys in the past have been allowed to participate in,” Day said. “We’re excited that families are getting the opportunity to grow together.”

Walker and his wife, Candis, were key in the decision to allow girls into Pack 109. Candis Walker said she became involved with the pack as her sons started to participate, and realized scouting was about family as a whole unit.

“Incorporating girls into the boys is so easy to do because there’s family involvement already happening,” Candis Walker said. “Anything we can do as a community to encourage families to spend time together, form relationships together and make lasting memories together, it’s going to pay off in huge dividends down the road.”

As an example of family participation, Candis Walker said scouting is often known for its camping experiences — with Cub Scouts hosting family campouts. She said mothers and sisters of Cub Scouts participants were already engaged in activities like these campouts, so the transition to allowing girls was seamless.

When Boy Scouts of America announced it would allow packs to permit girls, Candis Walker said she had thought about how the situation with her children could have been different if her youngest son had been a girl. As the Walkers’ oldest son became involved with scouting, the younger one would tag along and was excited to participate once he was old enough.

“Whenever the opportunity came about for BSA to invite girls ... I thought this makes so much sense,” Walker said. “We just assumed that our younger son would get involved with scouting because he was already enthusiastic about it. But what if he had been a little sister instead of a little brother? She would’ve still been enthusiastic.

“I thought, ‘I’m so glad for other tag-along sisters who have sort of been doing all of the activities with their brothers for decades. Now they can be officially involved and earn the same ranks, earn the same awards and truly be officially a part of BSA.'”

Logistically the biggest challenge this change brought is finding leadership. The idea behind girls in the Cub Scouting program is to have separate girls’ and boys’ dens with female leadership over girls’ dens, Tim Walker said. Dens are typically broken up by age. Finding female leadership wasn’t as much of a problem for Pack 109 this year, though, as Tim Walker said the pack already had female leadership in the dens in place that allowed them to accommodate the requirement.

Ideally, the girls’ den would meet once a week for their own program and attend the bigger pack meeting that is held once a month as well as other joint activities with the boys.

“There still seems to be misunderstanding about what girl involvement in BSA programming is,” Tim Walker said. “BSA has this concept that it’s their program offered to girls. It’s not intended to be co-ed programming but rather the same programming for girls as well as boys.”

As BSA offers Cub Scouts to younger children, it also offers what was formally known as Boy Scouts to 11- to 17-year olds. The organization announced in February that this program would be changing its name to Scouts BSA, and would also be allowing girls to participate at this level as well starting the same month as the name change. As Cub Scouts have separate gender dens, Scouts BSA troops would also be separated by gender.

Candis Walker said there currently has not been a demand to create a local Scouts BSA troop for girls, but that she thinks there will be one in the future. There have been girls that have joined Scouts BSA within the Old Hickory Council, she said.

The Walkers said that in no way is the change of bringing in girls to BSA trying to replace or compete with the Girl Scouts of America. Candis Walker said families now have the option to look at both programs and choose which is the best option for their family.

Families are able to visit beascout.org to locate which Cub Scout packs are within a desired zip code. Each pack is listed with a designation of whether it is boys only or allows both boys and girls, according to Day.

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