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Boy Scouts of America changing name to more inclusive Scouting America after years of woes

1 month 6 days 14 hours ago Tuesday, May 07 2024 May 7, 2024 May 07, 2024 10:41 AM May 07, 2024 in News
Source: Associated Press

IRVING, Texas (AP) — The Boy Scouts of America is changing its name for the first time in its 114-year history and will become Scouting America. It’s a significant shift as the organization emerges from bankruptcy following a flood of sexual abuse claims and seeks to focus on inclusion.

The organization steeped in tradition has made seismic changes after decades of turmoil, from finally allowing gay youth to welcoming girls throughout its ranks. With an eye on increasing flagging membership numbers, the Irving, Texas-based organization announced the name change Tuesday at its annual meeting in Florida.

“In the next 100 years we want any youth in America to feel very, very welcome to come into our programs,” Roger Krone, who took over last fall as president and chief executive officer, said in an interview before the announcement.

The organization began allowing gay youth in 2013 and ended a blanket ban on gay adult leaders in 2015. In 2017, it made the historic announcement that girls would be accepted as Cub Scouts as of 2018 and into the flagship Boy Scout program — renamed Scouts BSA — in 2019.

There were nearly 1,000 young women in the inaugural class of female Eagle Scouts in 2021, including Selby Chipman. The all-girls troop she was a founding member of in her hometown of Oak Ridge, North Carolina, has grown from five girls to nearly 50, and she thinks the name change will encourage even more girls to realize they can join.

Within days of the announcement that girls would be allowed, Bob Brady went to work. A father of two girls and a proud Eagle Scout himself, the New Jersey attorney eagerly formed an all-girls troop. At their first weekend gathering with other troops, the boys were happy to have the girls involved but some adult leaders seemed concerned, he recalled. Their worries seemed to melt away as soon as the girls led a traditional cheer around the campfire.

“You could see a change in the attitude of some of the doubters who weren’t sure and they realized, wait, these kids are exactly the same, they just happen to have ponytails,” said Brady. His daughters are among the 13 girls in his troop and 6,000 girls nationwide who have achieved the vaunted Eagle Scout rank.

Like other organizations, the scouts lost members during the pandemic, when participation was difficult. After a highpoint over the last decade of over 2 million members in 2018, the organization currently services just over 1 million youths, including more than 176,000 girls and young women. Membership peaked in 1972 at almost 5 million.

The move by the Boy Scouts to accept girls throughout their ranks strained a bond with the Girl Scouts of the USA, which sued, saying it created marketplace confusion and damaged their recruitment efforts. They reached a settlement agreement after a judge rejected those claims, saying both groups are free to use words like “scouts” and “scouting.”

While camping remains an integral activity for the Boy Scouts, the organization offers something for everyone today, from high adventures to merit badges for robotics and digital technology, Krone said: “About anything kids want to do today, they can do in a structured way within the scouting program.”

The Boy Scouts’ $2.4 billion bankruptcy reorganization plan took effect last year, allowing the organization to keep operating while compensating the more than 80,000 men who say they were sexually abused as children while scouting.

Angelique Minett, the first woman chairperson of Scouts BSA, gets excited about the future of scouting when she sees the about 20-person youth council from across the United States help guide the program by raising issues important to them, like sustainability, and things that they’d like to see changed, like the fit on some of the uniforms.

“When we think scouts we think knots and camping, but those are a means to an end,” Minett said. “We are actually teaching kids a much bigger thing. We are teaching them how to have grit, and we’re teaching them life skills and we’re teaching them how to be good leaders.”

The organization won’t officially become Scouting America until Feb. 8, 2025, the organization’s 115th birthday. But Krone said he expects people will start immediately using the name.

“It sends this really strong message to everyone in America that they can come to this program, they can bring their authentic self, they can be who they are and they will be welcomed here,” Krone said.

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