According to a recent survey, American families spend just 37 minutes of quality time together each day. Between work, school, social events and the hundreds of extracurricular activities to choose from, it’s no wonder we are spending more time sitting in a car than around a dinner table.
In a pushback against the busyness and disconnection, some parents are choosing activities that the whole family can be involved in. Rather than forcing kids to spend time in waiting areas or on bleachers while one child plays an instrument or sport, a family may be looking for a group where everyone is welcome.
Luckily for Ohio Valley families, such an organization exists — one that focuses on time in nature and valuing family and relationships. Scouts BSA welcomes everyone with open arms.
GIRLS IN THE DEN
Two years ago, the transition was made to include girls in the programming through the Scout Me In initiative. The name was officially changed from Boy Scouts to Scouts BSA in February 2019.
In their official press release, Scouts BSA says “Scout Me In is a call for celebration! It’s an invitation to take part in the fun and adventure that will help kids to build the confidence to find and forge a path to their own best self — today and in the future.”
Cub Scouts, which will retain its original name, is for boys and girls in grades kindergarten through fourth grade. Scouts is for children ages 11-17.
Dan Bettison is the Scout executive for the Ohio River Valley Council and is guiding the local troops through this momentous change. He has been involved with Scouts professionally for 28 years and was named to his current position in January.
He explained that the basic program of Scouts has not changed. “The goals of Scouting are and always have been to build leadership skills, encourage community service and focus on family connections.”
Scouts has always been family-focused but now families are looking for “one-stop programs.” Bettison has seen a change in the type of extracurricular activities parents want.
“We want to still reach families and children and the best way to do that right now is to include the whole family in Scouts. Girls don’t want to watch their brothers go camping, earn badges and participate in outdoor activities. They want to participate, too. And Scouts is excited to welcome them.”
“Girls don’t want to watch their brothers go camping, earn badges and participate in outdoor activities. They want to participate, too. And Scouts is excited to welcome them.” — Dan Bettison
HOW TO INCLUDE EVERYONE
As expected, both locally and nationally, there have been mixed reactions to this decision. But Bettison would argue that most of the objections steams from a misunderstanding of how the co-educational programs are run.
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All troops are sponsored by a charter organization, such as a church, fire department or social group. That group has the opportunity to decide who will be included in the Scouts troop. The vast majority have opted to include young ladies, but some do not. They are not forced to do so by the Scouts BSA organization.
In Cub Scouts (ages 5 through 10), the troops are mixed gender. More than 77,000 girls nationally have joined Cub Scouts since the option became available last year.
In Scouts, boys and girls are members of different dens. “Girls and boys learn differently so they get to work on their activities without the interference from each other. However, everyone has the opportunity to earn the same badges and take part in the same programs. The boys and girls dens share resources, but meet and camp in different locations,” Bettison explains.
United Methodist Church Troop 1750 in Middlebourne, West Virginia, was the first Girl Troop to form in the Ohio River Valley Council. They have a group of women who support them and serve as mentors to the young ladies in the troop. Two members have attended the National Youth Leadership Training, and many have served as staff at the Scouts day camp. This active and growing group is a perfect example of Scouts filling a need in a community.
THE GIRLS OF SCOUTING
Some programs have always been open to female Scouts. Venturing started in the 1930s for Scouts 15 and older who were interested in camping, aviation or boating. This program has been open to girls since 1969. Today, Venturing is for anyone ages 14-20 and is adrenaline-packed with adventures such as sailing and rock climbing.
Exploring is also co-educational and for those ages 14-20. In Wheeling, this program is sponsored by the Wheeling Police Department. The activities are career-based and intended for those who are interested in the field of law enforcement. A Wheeling Fire Department post will begin in 2019.
Across the U.S., Exploring Troops delve into a wide variety of topics including health care, business, engineering, sciences and much more.
This recent move to be inclusive for families is a natural evolution of the Scouts mission. Now it’s even easier for parents to find an activity that doesn’t involve a screen and appeals to every member of the family. The adventure and skills-building exercises should be open to everyone, and Scouts is excited to have whole families participate in their programs.
• Stacey Sacco is a Wheeling native currently living in Martins Ferry with her husband and four children. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social work and previously worked for several social service agencies. She is the production editor for InWheeling Magazine.