DUNSTABLE -- On Oct. 11, 2017, the Boy Scouts of America turned 100 years of tradition on its head by announcing plans to let girls join Scout troops.
Some people thought this would take the beloved Eagle Scout honor Boy Scouts strive for and "gut its prestige" and claimed the Boy Scouts were "caving to gender politics." Others wondered why girls would not just stick with the Girl Scouts as the troop for community service.
Regan Flynn and Abbie Axon, two Girl Scouts in Dunstable, had a very different reaction.
"Abby and I had a party," Regan said. "We'd been talking about this for so long."
"Four friends texted me that day because they knew how much I wanted to be a Boy Scout," Abbie said.
Fast-forward a year and a half, and Regan, Abbie and three other Dunstable girls are the first female members of Scout Troop 28. The five girls were chatting with some of the 24 boys of the troop at the Dunstable Evangelical Congregational Church on Monday night about upcoming events including a church cleanup and a camping trip to the Beaver Brook Association in Hollis, New Hampshire. For something that split Americans down the middle in terms of reactions, seeing the boys and girls coordinating activities together in similar uniforms under one group seemed surprisingly casual.
Nationwide, the Boy Scouts are changing with the times, having created a new entity, Scouts BSA, for boys and girls ages 11 to 17.
For now, there is a slight bit of separation between the boys and girls in Dunstable. According to Troop Leader Sarath Krishnaswamy, the troop is officially divided as Troop 28 and Troop 28G for the girls. Philip DeNyse, the troop's committee chair, clarified that the addition of girls in the troop doesn't represent a merger between the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Krishnaswamy said he was "delighted" by the announcement in 2017 and saw this as a way to expand the Boy Scouts membership numbers.
"This made sense as something we could offer," he added. "The Girl Scouts have a great program and what they do is awesome. This is just an opportunity for those interested. I think the BSA program tends to be a lot more outdoor-focused. We're now seeing more young teams regardless of gender who want to go outside."
Sara Axon decided to take the leap from being Troop 28's assistant scoutmaster to Troop 28G's scoutmaster. Although the girls couldn't attend meetings to advance their ranks before Feb. 1, Axon pointed out that some of the girls attended earlier troop meetings to get an idea of what to expect. There's also the family aspect between the Scouts, as Axon mentioned that four of the five girls have brothers who are either Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts.
"I've lived here my entire life and seen my son go through the program," she said. "The skills they learn here are real so I wanted to be here at the beginning to set the tone and see where this goes. I'm excited to give these girls an opportunity."
Axon's 15-year-old daughter, Abbie, will pull double-duty as both a Girl Scout and a Boy Scout, going for both the Girl Scouts' Gold Award and the Eagle Scout honor from the Boy Scouts. That challenge, along with the greater focus on outdoor activities, is what appealed to Abbie about joining the Boy Scouts.
"Being able to be a Boy Scout is very exciting," Abbie said. "I think it was scary at first because there were way more boys, but I know the rest of the girls managed.
Regan, 15, is also pulling double duty with the Girl and Boy Scouts. She's in the midst of working on earning four merit badges: radio, insect study, welding and life management. She noted how Girl Scouts "don't get as much recognition" for their accomplishments and that being honored as an Eagle Scout is "more widely recognized" in public.
"This is a really cool thing," Regan added. "The meetings were held in a different way but the boys gave us a real sense of belonging. This is an amazing opportunity and I want more girls to know about it."
None of the scoutmasters or scouts have heard any kind of negative feedback in response to the troop's inclusiveness. Kiran Krishnaswamy, the troop's senior patrol leader, thought that people weren't terrible bothered with welcoming girls to the Scouts.
"I thought it was cool," said Kiran, 15. "More people in the troop is always nice and the girls wanted to do outdoor camping. I think allowing anyone who wants to join is a good thing."