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5 years after admitting girls, Scouts BSA in Maine faces new challenges amid achievements

Kaylin Grogg of Troop 338 G at her Eagle Scout Court of Honor in early February. The South Berwick native became York County's first female Eagle Scout.
Nick Song
Maine Public
Kaylin Grogg of Troop 338 G at her Eagle Scout Court of Honor in early February. The South Berwick native became York County's first female Eagle Scout.

Whenever Eagle Scout Kaylin Grogg of Troop 338 G in South Berwick sees the Wilderness Survival merit badge on her sash, she remembers the campout where she and the other scouts in her troop slept outside in shelters they built from sticks.

"Pretty much no one could actually sleep," Grogg says shortly before her Eagle Scout Court of Honor, "so we actually just went over to the biggest of the shelters we could find, sat in a circle, and just hung out."

Just 6% of all BSA scouts advance to the rank of Eagle. Doing so requires earning dozens of merit badges, holding a senior leadership position in the troop and other achievements.

Most scouts take 4-6 years to earn Eagle. Grogg earned hers in just two. In doing so, she became York County's first female Eagle Scout.

"I worked hard," Grogg says. "I'm an Eagle now. I'm pretty proud of that."

This February marks five years since the Boy Scouts of America, now called Scouts BSA, first started admitting girls into the BSA program. Since 2019, around 6,000 female scouts have advanced to Eagle — with Maine having produced 17 total, including Grogg. Today there are over 45,000 female scouts in the program across the country.

"Girls have done a terrific job and shown that they can rock a 50-mile hike, just as their brothers can," says Kayleen Deatherage, a Scouts BSA national board member. Deatherage leads the board's task force for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

While Scouts BSA divides boys and girls into separate troops, she says the requirements for advancement remain the same for both.

"Girls, they didn't want a different version of scouting — from a rank advancement standpoint, [and] from a merit badge requirements standpoint," Deatherage says. "They wanted to accomplish exactly the same things that their brothers and cousins and fathers and grandfathers had. I think that that was a really important piece: that whatever [advancement] requirements existed, those same requirements would apply to girls as boys."

A key part in any Eagle Scout's journey is their Eagle Scout service project. The project is designed to benefit the scout's local community.

"My Eagle Project is a puzzle and game exchange set," says Macy Neleski of Troop 2019 in Hancock County. "It's like a little library, but [instead] it's a big shed for puzzles and games — and also a small food pantry."

Neleski earned Eagle this February a few days before her 13th birthday. For her Eagle project, she raised thousands of dollars' worth of materials by working with local organizations; she then led a crew of volunteers in the construction of the sheds.

"The planning process itself before I started building was probably a lot — like 111 hours just planning it," she says. "I'm the senior patrol leader in my troop, I was assistant senior patrol leader, [so] it's really nothing new."

"I have gotten to go on a bunch of these trips with the kids, and it has been a lot of fun," says Heather Palardy, the scoutmaster for Girls Troop 338. Palardy helped start the troop when her daughter, Aislinn, wanted to start scouting. "Unfortunately for us — with the three girls troop — we don't didn't have enough girls to recharter."

Scouts BSA has recently experienced a sharp decline in their membership. The pandemic caused the closure of many units in the BSA's younger Cub Scouts program, which Scouts BSA relies on as a recruitment pipeline. Palardy says Troop 338's closest Cub Scout Unit never reopened after the pandemic.

"Without having Cub Scouts coming into the troop, we don't have any young kids to feed into the troop," she says. "Sixth graders are right about the age group you want to come in. Starting in high school, trying to get kids who have never had any kind of scouting experience to join Scouts is harder than having Cub Scouts just naturally fold into the troop."

Due to low membership, both the boy and girl troops of Troop 338 will disband this year. Grogg — at least for the foreseeable future — will be 338's first and final female Eagle.

Beyond membership, another challenge for Scouts BSA concerns its treatment of gender identity. In 2021, Mia Dawbin garnered national recognition by becoming Maine's first female Eagle Scout.

"[Scouts BSA] definitely helped me learn a lot about myself and my interest," Dawbin says. "But at the time, I was also realizing that I don't really identify as female."

While earning praise for breaking glass ceilings, Dawbin, who uses they/them pronouns, realized they identify as nonbinary — a gender identity falling outside the traditional male and female categories.

"There was [a] level of imposter syndrome where I was just like, 'I'm pretending to be female [and] now people are interviewing me because of it,'" Dawbin says.

Scouts BSA says the program admits nonbinary youth. But current policy means a child only has the option of joining either a boy or girl troop, which forces a nonbinary scout to associate under a gender identity they don't use. Dawbin says a solution could be to give troops an option to be fully co-ed.

"It doesn't necessarily feel like there's an option to be nonbinary in Scouts when everything is dictated by gender," Dawbin says. "Constantly being in a place [where] they're telling you your gender identity definitely doesn't feel good as a scout who might be struggling with that."

Despite these challenges, Scouts BSA officials say girls now make up a fifth of all Cub Scouts, or 100,000 total across the nation. That means the number of girls enrolled scouts BSA — as well as female Eagles — should continue to rise in the upcoming years.

Nick Song is Maine Public's inaugural Emerging Voices Fellowship Reporter.

Originally from Southern California, Nick got his start in radio when he served as the programming director for his high school's radio station. He graduated with a degree in Journalism and History from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University -- where he was Co-News Director for WNUR 89.3 FM, the campus station.