PALMYRA — Marc Monfalcone grew up in Boy Scouts, and knew he’d want his son to try the program, as well. What he didn’t anticipate, though, was having two daughters who would also want to participate in scouting.
Last year, one was able to join a Palmyra Cub Scouts program. Last week, Monfalcone’s oldest daughter, Allison, became a Scout in a new troop for area girls.
“It’s just something that’s hugely enriching,” he said. “We just want everyone to be able to do it.”
Scouts BSA, historically known as Boy Scouts of America, announced in 2017 that it would begin admitting girls ages 5 through 10 in 2018 and ages 11 through 17 in 2019. Some programs already allowed girls to participate in non-merit activities, but until this month, older girls did not have the chance to attain the highest rank of Eagle Scout. In recent years, the organization also has lifted restrictions on LGBT membership.
Allison Monfalcone, 14, and Carley Hurley, 16, have gone on family camping trips with their brothers’ troop and have watched the boys learn how to tie ropes, make fires, gain jobs skills and go on trips. They want the same thing.
“I’ve been with the troop a little bit, on trips with my family,” Allison said. “But now I’ll get to be with my friends.”
“I think you get more bonding experiences,” Carley said.
According to Jim Battaglia, the CEO of Stonewall Jackson Regional Council, which serves 13 counties in Central Virginia, about 90 girls ages 5 through 17 have joined the Cub Scouts and Scouts program. There are currently three all-girl troops, with three more planned this spring.
“The interest is very, very high,” Battaglia said. “Girls want the program.”
In 2018, as Scouts BSA rolled out its new plans, it said in an announcement that it hoped to “serve families and welcome girls and boys into Scouting in communities across the country. [The campaign] reinforces that the mission and core values in the Scout Oath and Scout Law are welcoming, inclusive and foundational for both young men and women.”
According to the most recent national membership numbers available, in 2017, the program had more than 2 million members. Both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America have fought declining membership in recent years.
The Girl Scouts organization condemned Scouts BSA’s decision to admit girls, saying at the time that “no one does girl leadership better than we do.”
Battaglia said he thought there was no reason for Scouts BSA’s program to remain gender specific; it was up to girls and their families, he said, to decide which program would be better for them.
Allison and Carley attended Troop 138’s regular meeting on Wednesday, watching as the boys planned an upcoming trip.
At the end of the meeting, after all the Scouts stood and gave the pledge, Scoutmaster Gator Shifflett commended the troop, which includes his son and newly minted Eagle Scout Devon Shifflett, and offered hopes for the new troop.
“It’s been an honor to be the scoutmaster of 138. I’m not going very far though,” said Shifflett, who has led the Palmyra Boy Scouts Troop 138 for five years and will now become Allison and Carley’s scoutmaster. “I’m going to try and pass it forward and help with our newest Scouts troop.”
Shifflett handed the girls their new troop patches, embroidered with the numbers 1138 and a snarling badger.
Scouting, Shifflett said, is simply about building self-confidence and learning how to work with peers, whether girls or boys. He said he’s proud to get the chance to help area girls form their own troop, choose their events and merit badges and organize camping trips.
“Lots of girls are watching what the boys do, and it’s been the hardest thing to say, ‘I can’t let you participate in Scouts,’” Shifflett said. “I’ve had to say no several times over the years, and to finally be able to say yes is an amazing feeling.”
The new Troop 1138 will hold an open house from 6 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Palmyra. Interested girls ages 11 (or 10 and finishing the fifth grade) to 17 and their parents are welcomed to attend and can be enrolled as scouts or scoutmasters at that time. Scoutmaster Shifflett can be reached at email@example.com or (434) 531-7311.