WORCESTER – For the past two summers, the Mohegan Council of the Boy Scouts has hosted a Lithuanian scouting group that includes boys and girls at Treasure Valley Scout Reservation in Rutland.
The visiting scouts, many with Lithuanian heritage, are from the eastern part of the U.S., but they practice the co-ed scouting tradition of Lithuania, as well as the majority of scouting groups across the world.
"We got a sense of what the future might be," Jeff Hotchkiss, executive director and CEO of the Mohegan Council, said Wednesday. "The great majority of scouting associations across the world run a program where there are boys and girls."
Mr. Hotchkiss shared the experience while discussing the Boy Scout of America’s announcement Wednesday that in 2018, girls will be allowed to become Cub Scouts; and beginning in 2019, older girls will be allowed to earn the Boy Scouts' highest honor, Eagle Scout.
BSA began discussing the concept in April as a way to be a "one-stop shop" for boys and girls of today’s busy parents. Councils across the country held town halls to get feedback from volunteers and parents to send to the national office.
Mr. Hotchkiss said he was not surprised by the decision on Wednesday, but he was surprised that the decision had been made so quickly. He said that 70 percent of people across the country who took the survey thought allowing girls to join the Boy Scouts was a good idea. He said he has had parents say they wish they their daughter and son could do scouting together.
"It's exciting," he said. "I think it opens us up more."
BSA has for a long time offered programs such as Venturing, Sea Scouts, Exploring and STEM Scouts which serve boys and girls.
One way Mr. Hotchkiss thinks the co-ed programs will help is possibly attracting more Hispanics to scouting. Currently, fewer than 5 percent of the approximately 4,500 Mohegan Council scouts are Hispanic, but close to 40 percent of students in the Worcester Public Schools are Hispanic, he said.
"Hispanic families are very family-oriented. The more we can offer a family program, I think that's terrific," Mr. Hotchkiss said.
Pam Hyland, CEO of Girl Scouts of Southeastern New England, called Wednesday's announcement "an unfortunate decision."
"We just really believe in the importance of a single-gender leadership experience developed around the needs and interest of girls," she said. "We have 105 years of research-based programs that support girls. We remain committed to the all-girl environment that Girl Scouts provide. It's a safe place for girls to learn and thrive."
She said like the coveted Eagle Scout award, the Girl Scouts' highest honor is the Gold Award. The final project leading up to the award requires a girl to perform 80 hours of work. A recent Gold Award recipient, who had a difficult time as a child after the loss of two family members, wrote, illustrated and published a book called "The Color Blue," which focuses on loss of any kind.
Ms. Hyland said the BSA's acceptance of girls is not the beginning of the end of Girl Scouts.
"We think this is a wonderful opportunity for us to better tell our story than we have been," she said. "We could not be more poised for success."