Leadership Becomes Second Nature for Local All-Girls Troop, Now Official Members of Scouts BSA

female BSA Troop
A group of local girls has become one of the nation’s first all-girl troops to join Scouts BSA for fun, adventure, life skills, and leadership.

In February, for the first time in its 100-plus-year history, the Boy Scouts of America welcomed young women to its iconic program. Since then, a group of local girls has become one of the nation’s first all-girl troops to join the program for fun, adventure, life skills, and leadership – all elements they experienced on a recent weeklong camping trip.

Previously known as the Boy Scouts, the program is now called “Scouts BSA,” a change meant to welcome both boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 17 to its ranks. Downingtown resident Patti VanCleave, Assistant Scoutmaster of the newly formed troop, has been involved in scouting for 16 years and is still involved with her son’s old troop.

“It’s a great program that teaches a lot to the Scouts about leadership and self-confidence,” she said.

VanCleave, who works as a Project Manager at the Chester County Economic Development Council in the Department of STEM Innovation, is no stranger to helping area youth explore their passions. She runs point on the annual Girls Exploring Tomorrow’s Technology (GETT) event that provides an opportunity for young women in grades 5 to 10 to explore STEM careers.

She is also involved in the state’s What’s So Cool About Manufacturing? student video contest, which has teams of middle school students partner with area manufacturing companies, as well as summer career academies, that provide area kids with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience. Through these programs and other career exploration events, she helped 4,681 local young people discover, explore, and learn this past year.

As for the Scouts, VanCleave says that a local church was interested in becoming an early adopter and sponsor of a program for girls.

VanCleave, along with Scoutmaster Melissa Pendill and Assistant Scoutmaster Michelle Rossi, first formed a girls-only Explorer Club in June 2018 in order to get a head start on learning the skills and requirements needed to eventually be a part of Scouts BSA. In February of this year, they were chartered as Troop 19.

The all-girl troop is sponsored by the Marshallton United Methodist Church, and is part of the Horseshoe Trail District of the Chester County Council, BSA. The troop chose “19” to commemorate the year they became a troop, and because the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote and signified a movement toward female inclusion.

In June, Troop 19 put its acquired skills to use when it attended its first summer camp, held at Camp Ware in Peach Bottom, in Lancaster County.

“We had 18 girls there for a full week, sleeping in platform tents, two per tent,” said VanCleave. “Every day, they were doing activities to earn merit badges and fulfilling the 10-20 requirements for each Scout rank. At the end of the week, the troop had earned 27 separate rank advancements (from Tenderfoot to First Class) and 54 merit badges.”

What most impressed the adult leaders, however, was how well the girls accomplished their assignments and met the various challenges they faced.

“There were all kinds of challenges throughout the week, and they just stepped up,” said VanCleave. “They wanted to be in the middle of everything. It wasn’t an issue that they were girls.”

Indeed, some in the troop are already planning to be among the first girls to become Eagle Scouts, the highest rank in Scouting, previously available only to boys.

From her previous years in working with Boy Scouts, VanCleave had first-hand knowledge of how some Scouts react when they are away for long periods from the comforts of home. She found a refreshingly different reaction from Troop 19.

I had been working with boys for a long, long time, and I know that after a couple of days, the first-year Scouts are homesick and ready to go home,” she said. “These girls had so much tenacity, it was just amazing to me. They were like, ‘Sure, this is new, I got it, tell me what to do.’ They managed themselves all week long.”

One example of their tenacity was earning credit toward the Polar Bear Award. It required a 7 AM swim on four separate days, but many girls went all five days at camp.

“They wanted to do it,” said VanCleave. “They saw a goal and wanted to go after it.”

Another indication of the girls’ go-to attitude at camp was choosing to first acquire the more difficult Eagle-required merit badges, like Environmental Science and First Aid, and then adding challenging merit badges, like Rifle Shooting and Shotgun Shooting, to their schedules.

According to the Boy Scouts of America, more than 70 percent of adults who were Scouts as children say there have been in real-life situations in which having been a Scout helped them be better leaders. Coming in as Scouts all at the same level, however, Troop 19 did not have the luxury of having older, experienced campers ready to lead and share their years of knowledge.

“They didn’t have the older Scouts to lead them,” said VanCleave. “They all had to step up, and they became leaders on Day One. They were becoming good at skills and then showing others and having fun doing it, and they wanted to help each other reach their goals. Leadership became second nature.”

A desire for adventure, camping, and more outdoor experiences was the reason many in the troop decided to join Scouts BSA. Now, the girls of Troop 19, ages 11-15, are doing the same activities that the boys are doing, and not being treated any differently.

“As women, we don’t always have that self-confidence, we don’t feel like we are supposed to do certain things — that’s just how society has evolved over time,” said VanCleave. “At camp, I was able to help empower them all day long, and they got a real sense of ‘I can do that.’ I think that’s really powerful.”

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