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Boy Scouts vote to enroll girls, but will they sign up?

Sixteen-year-old Akima Khuong tried the Girl Scouts for several years, but the program didn’t quite fit.

“I didn’t like it because we didn’t get as many opportunities as the boys did, and I decided it was boring,” said Khuong, a junior at North Quincy High School.

As soon as she was old enough, she joined a coed venturing crew for teenagers run by the Boy Scouts of America that led her on outdoor adventures, including white-water rafting, backpacking, and shooting sports.

She welcomed Wednesday’s announcement that the Boy Scouts will soon let younger girls join Cub Scouts and establish a program for older girls that will let them attain the rank of Eagle Scout.


For Khuong, however, the change might be too late.

“I think it’s great because girls get the opportunity now,” she said. “If I was younger I would have done it, but by the time they offer it I’m going to be aged out.”

The change in membership policy surprised some longtime observers of the Boy Scouts and drew criticism from Girl Scouts, with some leaders suggesting the new rules weren’t made to serve girls, but to reverse the Boy Scouts’ weakening finances and declining membership.

“Part of me suspects . . . it’s more of a financial play,” said Pat Parcellin, chief executive of Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts. “We believe strongly in the value that we offer to our girls — learning in an all-girl environment where they’re not distracted by boys.”

Membership has declined nationally in both scouting organizations. As of March, the Girl Scouts reported more than 1.5 million youth members and 749,000 adult members, down from just over 2 million youth members and about 800,000 adult members in 2014, according to an Associated Press article. The Boy Scouts say its current youth participation is about 2.35 million, down from 2.6 million in 2013 and more than 4 million in peak years of the past.


The new Boy Scouts policy is set to go into effect next year, when girls will be permitted to enroll in Cub Scouts, which serves children in first grade through fifth grade. The scouts are organized into packs and dens.

Dens, the smallest group, will be single-gender, either all boys or all girls. Packs, however, will have three options. They can form an all-girl pack, establish a pack of boy dens and girl dens, or remain all boys.

The Boy Scouts’ plans for older girls are not yet clear. The organization said it will unveil a program in 2019 that will give them a path to becoming Eagle Scouts.

The Boy Scouts already offer some coed programming, such as the venturing crews, but the age requirements vary. To participate in venturing, children must be 14, or 13 if they’ve finished the eighth grade.

The organization said the vote to accept girls more broadly was unanimous.

Jeff Hotchkiss, scout executive for the Mohegan Council in Central Massachusetts, said Boy Scouts made the change to address a common complaint from parents.

“To me, it makes a lot of sense,” he said. “The lament has always been . . . ‘Gee, I wish my daughters could be in this program with my boy.’”

A Girl Scout’s vest showed the collection of badges she earned.Cheryl Senter for The Boston Globe

Ella Mattingly, a junior at Lexington High School, comes from a family of Boy Scouts. One brother is an Eagle Scout, and another belongs to Troop 119 in Lexington. Her father runs the group, with help from his wife.


Mattingly, 16, who is president of a coed venturing group run by the Boy Scouts, hopes the new policy means she’ll now be able to join Troop 119.

“It would be a cool experience,” she said.

Ray Theberge, executive director of Boy Scout Troop 42 and an adviser for the venturing crew that Khuong is a member of, said he has already heard from girls who are too old to join Cub Scouts and may be eligible to join Boy Scouts when the organization unveils its plans for older girls.

“We’re excited about this announcement because now we can do things with the 11- and 12- and 13-year-olds,” Theberge said.

Brianna Williams, 17, is a Girl Scout, but worked as a camp counselor last summer at a Boy Scouts camp in Bolton.

Stereotypes about the two groups, she said, are inaccurate. Girl Scouts aren’t limited to crafting and selling cookies and get plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventuring, Williams said.

Girls should consider personal preference when deciding which group to join, she said.

“I am a girl of both organizations,” Williams said. “There are a lot of similarities.”

Founded in 1910, the Boy Scouts have a reputation for fostering traditional values, but the group has undergone several changes in recent years by accepting gay youth members and adult volunteers, as well as transgender boys.

The programming is delivered through chartered organizations, 70 percent of which are faith-based groups, according to the Boy Scouts’ website. The Boy Scouts’ rules ban atheists and agnostics.


Girl Scouts, however, belong to a secular organization, according to their website.

Susan Miller, a scholar who has written about youth organizations, said she was surprised by the Boy Scouts’ vote to admit girls.

“It’s hard for me to believe that their membership is uniformly on board with this,” said Miller, who teaches at Rutgers University in Camden, N.J.

“I imagine there are people who are really attached to this organization and want it to stay as it is.”

Ben Jordan, who wrote a book about the Boy Scouts, said he thought the group would lift its ban on atheists before accepting girls.

“They have held consistently to the line about not allowing girls,” said Jordan, who teaches at Christian Brothers University in Memphis. “For over a century that seemed like an immovable line.”

Some local Girl Scout leaders predicted the change won’t dramatically affect membership.

Allowing girls into the Boy Scouts isn’t a replacement for Girl Scouts, said Natalie Pozzetti, a Girl Scouts leader in Lancaster. The programming is based on research on girls, she said.

“It’s girl-led,” Pozzetti said. “That means we do what the girls want to do.”

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.