It's a family affair: Hudson Boy Scout Packs among first to accept girls
Last summer, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced it would be allowing siblings of Scouts to join their brothers at the summer Scouting camp.
"My favorite part of Cub Scout Camp was the slingshots. Because when you pull it back and let it go, it reminds me of the song Elsa sings in 'Frozen,' where she says 'Let it go!'" said 6-year-old Heather Hilke, whose brother Evan is a Bear Cub in Pack 148. "I also liked the sponge fight. It was cold, but it was still fun. I liked when I tried to throw one at mommy and then I missed hitting dad."
After all the fun she had at summer camp, and all the good times she has had at her brother's Cub Scout meetings, Heather and her family couldn't have been happier when the Boy Scouts of America announced it would be changing its policies to allow girls to join Cub Scouts last year.
"We are already at those pack meetings, and we are already at one den meeting, so going to that one other den meeting is more convenient. We are already participating in all the other Cub Scout events, so why not let her be a bigger part of it," said Heather's mother, Trina Hilke. "Most of our pictures from camp or other camping adventures have both boys and girls in them having fun. So why not let them be official."
As of March 1, several Hudson Cub Scout Packs — which were accepted into the "Early Adopter Program" — began accepting girls from kindergarten to fourth grade into their packs. Heather, who is also a member of a local Girl Scouts troop, was the first girl to become a member of Pack 148. The Hilke children are also involved in hockey, gymnastics and dance.
"I think my sister is getting really invested with Cub Scouts and I think she is really liking it, too. I'm surprised that Heather is the first girl to join Cub Scouts in our pack since there are always so many other sisters at the meetings and events," Evan said. "It makes everyone proud that she was one of the first girls to join."
Pack 148, which was formed in 1996, currently has 54 members, Pack 148 Cubmaster Andrew Nelson said. The pack is made up of from children from St. Patrick's, Willow River, EP Rock and River Crest schools, as well as a few others, including homeschooled children. Pack meetings are the last Tuesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at Camp St. Croix, just south of Hudson.
"I thought it was a great idea from day one. I think there is a little bit of a disconnect from people that look at scouting from the outside versus folks that are involved in the Cub Scout program. That being that, from the beginning, there was a very family friendly atmosphere. The sisters, siblings, cousins or whoever it happened to be, were always very welcome in the pack," said Nelson. "The way I looked at it was that the only change for us was that the sisters and girls that were already there can put the uniform on and can actually earn some recognitions based on the stuff they have been doing for years."
Those who might still have questions about girls joining Cub Scouts, or scouting in general, can attend an information meeting being put on by Cub Scout Packs 148, 140, 213 and 168 at 7 p.m. Monday, April 16 at Bethel Lutheran Church (920 Third St., Hudson).
"We are actively recruiting girls at local recruiting events. We've had women as part of out Venturing Crew for a while now as well. We have three regular women leaders and are starting up a patrol of all girls," said Hudson Troop 140 leader Ron Raymond. "To me, scouting is all about leadership. We are looking to build leaders and good citizens. However that happens, I'm good with that."
The meeting is for those thinking about having their sons or daughters join Cub Scouts and will provide information about the different packs, the chance to meet with local leaders and to fill out an application to begin scouting.
"I think, overall, even when she went to her first den meeting, half the kids there already knew. And not just from Cub Scouts, but also from school. Not one of those boys questioned why she was there," Hilke said. "Not one of them seemed to have a care that she had a blue shirt on."
According to Hilke, since Heather joined Pack 148 one other girl, 8-year-old Amelia Haumschild, has joined the pack. Nelson said that according to a survey the pack sent out prior to beginning to accept girls into the group, another eight or nine girls are interested in joining the pack in the future.
"We are very family-oriented. We also have enough female leaders, that if there is not a parent with the child, there is a female leader to be with a girl. We have multiple den leaders that are women and we have members of the committee that are women, so there is no shortage of female registered adults to supervise if it isn't an actual parent," Hilke said.
In Nelson's mind, the decision to change the Boy Scout policy to allow girls into the organization is a no-brainer, but it wasn't a decision the BSA made lightly. According to Nelson, the BSA and the Northern Star Council put a great deal of time and effort into reaching out to parents, leaders, merit badge counselors and professional staff within the organization to determine if making the change would be a good idea.
"Overwhelmingly, the response has been up in the 90th percentile that, yes, parents and families wanted an organization that was inclusive of both their sons and daughters in the program," Nelson said.
According to the Boy Scouts of America, a program that will deliver the Boy Scout program to girls — allowing them to earn the highest rank of Eagle — will be announced this year with projected implementation in 2019.
"The Boy Scouts' core principals — the character building, the activities that they do and the leadership opportunities that they provide — isn't specific to boys or girls. The Scout Oath and Law is pretty straightforward. It is a great tool and a great character-building opportunity for kids of all ages. It really, truly doesn't matter on them being boys or girls," Nelson said. "In our group, I have not had anybody directly contact me and say that they are not happy about the decision. I'm not aware of any negative feedback on the matter. We had one response to our survey questioning the decision, but it wasn't anybody that brought anything specific to my attention."
Although Heather probably won't remember everything about her first few years of being a Cub Scout, Hilke knows that she will be able to look back at the experience and the significance of her membership in the Scouts and know she was the start of something big.
"She's been there for all of it. For me, there is a little bit of a feeling of a ceiling being broken. As a parent, that makes you more proud. She doesn't even understand that right now, but someday, when she can earn her Eagle Scout she will be like 'I was there at the beginning and it was big. And I was involved,'" Hilke said.