Adventures abound for boys and girls in scouting groups

July 2, 2011

By Sebastian Moraga

Dads are on the losing end of a tug-of-war against 16 Cub Scouts at Hans Jensen Park. By Greg Farrar.

Despite decades of history in America, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts still endure narrow views of their efforts.

The girls are famous for their cookie sales, the boys for their camping trips. That sometimes plays against them.

“A common misconception is that all Girl Scouts do is sell cookies,” said Julie Wendell, with the Girl Scouts of East King County. “The leadership opportunities, travel experiences and wonderful programs offered by Girl Scouts go way beyond selling cookies.”

Similar troubles beset the boys.

“A misconception is that Boy Scouts is for suburban white kids. And we don’t do programs for people of other ethnic backgrounds, and that all we do is tie knots and go camping,” said Sharon Moulds, with the Chief Seattle Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which encompasses all of King County.

Moulds and Wendell are longtime members of their organizations. Moulds has been with the Boy Scouts for 26 years; Wendell joined the Girl Scouts in second grade and has worked for the organization as an adult in four states. She even has lifetime member status.

With such credentials, the two speak to the past and the future of two organizations steeped in tradition that are at the same time working to stay relevant and modern.

The Boy Scouts of America, celebrating its 100th year, no longer gives badges like farm mechanics or stalking — not the restraining-order kind — but it does give badges for things like computer work.

“We have changed and we’ve stayed the same. We’ve done both,” Moulds said. “The Oath of Law has been part of the Boy Scouts for about 100 years, but what has changed is how we deliver the program. The fundamentals are the same.”

Those fundamentals include working with young boys to turn them into good citizens with strong values and character, through fun and exciting activities.

“You don’t have to be overly athletic or book-smart. You just want to be part of something,” she said.

You don’t even have to want to get any of those 125 badges. Just show up and participate.

“We have programs for anything from water conservation to shotgun shooting and mountain-boarding,” Moulds said.

Making connections

Scouting teaches you a foundation of morals, Issaquah Scout Nick Co said.

“From Scouting, you learn to lead people,” he said. “You can go on camping trips, but you can also go on canoeing trips and you have to be a leader in those situations. I once led a group on a 72-mile canoeing trip.”

Another side of Scouts is the connections one makes, including to people like Bill Gates, who received the Scouts’ highest honor, the Silver Buffalo, in a ceremony Co emceed.

On March 31, Co and other Scouts presented the colors at a ceremony in Seattle honoring volunteer Scouts.

Thanks to Scouts, Co also got his certification in scuba diving. In January on Alki Beach, no less.

“One of our laws is being brave,” he said. “Persevere and act like it’s no big deal, at the same time being brave enough to ask for help.”

Members of Girl Scouts Junior Troop 3193 hold their surfboards last year at a San Diego beach as they took a surfing school lesson and earned the Junior Surfing badge. By Laura Adams

Courage and character

Scouting has become a family affair for Wendell and Moulds. Moulds’ son was a Boy Scout and so was Wendell’s mom.

“She was my leader throughout my years as a girl member,” Wendell said.

Wendell’s love for the organization lasted, and evolved. Same for the organization itself, she said.

Girl Scouts celebrate their 100th anniversary next year, Wendell said, and the program has become more streamlined with time.

The change is evident in the mission statement of the Girl Scouts written in 1912 that stated its desire to train girls to take their rightful place in life, first as good women, then as good citizens, wives and mothers.

The mission statement written in 2005 reads, “Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place.”

The current mission statement, Wendell said, is relevant to today’s world and speaks volumes when it comes to understanding the Girl Scout experience.

As with the Boy Scouts, the programs Girl Scouts offers have changed, too, with subjects like marketing, geocaching and astronomy now being studied.

One thing that has not changed is that for the most part, both organizations remain strictly gender-exclusive.

The boys have a program that girls participate in called Venturing, for teenagers and 20-year-olds.

“It’s a high-adventure program, lots of hiking, lots of search-and-rescue things,” Moulds said. “We have another program called Exploring, for 14- to 21-year-olds, that is more career-based.”

On the other hand, Wendell explained, girls need space in their lives for girl-only time.

“It’s essential for their healthy development,” she said.

“There’s a lot of team-building activities,” she added. “It’s like the Boy Scouts, but with more feminine stuff.”

Challenges continue

Wendell said national statistics show that only one-third of high schoolers enrolled in Advanced Placement physics classes are girls; one-fifth of college engineering majors are women; and 60 percent of eighth-grade girls have confidence in their math skills, about 11 percent fewer than boys.

“Positive reinforcement through Girl Scout programs in these subjects can give girls the extra support they need to enthusiastically pursue science and math education careers,” Wendell said.

Challenges exist in both organizations. Boy Scouts struggle with approaching immigrant children.

“It’s easier to serve the suburban white kids, because their parents were probably Scouts,” Moulds said. “But the kids whose parents just moved to America have never been exposed to Scouting.”

Girl Scouts struggle being recognized on their own, Wendell said, even after 100 years of doing much more than just selling cookies.

“I often felt inferior as a Girl Scout because I would be asked questions like, ‘Oh, Girl Scouts. Is that like the Boy Scouts?’” she said.

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