RIDLEY TOWNSHIP — The Boy Scouts of Troop 339 were dressing up their new members with love Tuesday night.
The Ridley-based troop bought the first uniforms for the first six girls in Delaware County to join a local troop since the Boy Scouts of America allowed girls to join the formerly boys-only club through Scouts BSA starting on Feb. 1. This marks the first time in 109 years that girls will be able to earn the same merit badges and titles such as the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest achievable rank in scouting.
Scoutmasters Jim Walls and Barbara Steinmetz watched as the girl women of Troop 339 picked out their uniforms and sashes at the Cradle of Liberty Council’s Valley Forge Scout Shop in Wayne, the welcoming first step to a new era of scouting for the teen-aged population.
“The girls troop is so thankful that the boys are doing this,” said Steinmetz Tuesday afternoon. “They’re happy and excited and it’s a fantastic start to all of this.”
Steinmetz, whose daughters Emily, 13, and Alison, 12, are now scouts in Scouts Troop 339, said the kind gesture of buying the uniforms – valued at approximately $100 each – was a genuine surprise to the girls troop.
“I know it will make the girls feel welcome. They realize they’re part of a bigger thing and they’re excited,” she said.
According to Walls, the idea was generated solely by the boys of the troop who were wondering what to do with the funds they had raised through smart money management.
“When the opportunity presented itself with the girls, the guys got together and had a conference call on what could they do for them to welcome them into our organization,” he said. “Uniforms are a great way to get them started. It’s not giving them the shirts off their back, but it’s giving them the resources so they show up ready for the first meetings that they’re part of the organization.”
“This is why you’re a youth volunteer to see a group of young men put their own personal interests aside and do good for others. It’s all about doing one good thing each day for somebody else. This year it happened to be buying uniforms for the girls."
Now the girls have the necessary apparel to venture out on their own program to do the activities that interest them and build up their character-development skills.
“We’re still in the crawling phase when they decide what they want to do,” said Steinmetz about the county’s first girls troop in Scouts BSA. “I want to be there to see them experience what they want to in the program. There is a lot of stuff they’re talking about: Camping, orienteering and seeing what the program’s about and what they can do with it.
“They’re the ones who end up leading it in the long run. They learn the structure, to pick it all and pick and choose what they want to do."
The Boy Scouts of America announced in 2017 its intention to welcome girls into its programs to be more accommodating for families who want boys and girls in the same organization. Girls were welcomed into cub scouts in 2018 and a program for older girls became available this year with Scouts BSA.
Girls and boys have been marginally integrated since 1971 through the Boy Scouts of America’s exploring and venturing programs, but the boys and girls will remain in single-gendered groups in their respective troops as they earn their badges and work toward their Eagle Scout titles.
Leaders of Troop 339 voted unanimously to let girls into the troop.
“The opportunity to branch out was terrific. It was a matter of getting some of the paperwork together and, most important, going out in the community that this opportunity was presenting itself to bring the first girls in,” said Walls.
He added, “We’re so proud of the girls who jumped right into the program. I look at them as pioneers. It’s not easy to be the first sometimes; you stick your neck out to be bold and brave.”
Steinmetz’ girls were immediately intrigued when Troop 339 began to promote in early February its welcoming of girls into the mix.
“They were interested and I’m one of those parents who will help in any way I can so my daughters can do things,” she said.
Coming from a male-dominated work environment, Steinmetz knows what it means to flex muscle around all of that testosterone.
This was the time to put on what girls can do when fully accepted by a century-old boys pack.
“Let’s show them what we can do. I don’t have a problem with it. It’s more to show the boys that we can do it, too,” she said.
Steinmetz added, “They seem excited about having the opportunity to do it. They realize they’re the first in Delaware County, but look forward to the experience overall. Just talking to my own daughters and listening to them, they’re excited about it.”