by Toni Denis
While Girl Scouts are associated with selling cookies, making craft projects and pledging to help others, Eagle Scouts are associated with ambition, success and initiative.
The Eagle Scout award opens doors to colleges, jobs and connections. But until February of 2019, Eagle Scout programs and the lifelong benefits and networking opportunities that prestigious award often bring were the sole domain of young men.
Now girls in Prescott have broken the gender barrier with the first global wave of females to complete the requirements and achieved the distinction of being named Eagle Scouts.
Girls of Valkyrie Troop 7106, chartered at the American Lutheran Church, entered the Scouting BSA program in its first month, and this fall they earned their awards, with added honors. The boys have a separate troop, but the two troops collaborate for some events.
In 2017 the Boy Scouts announced plans to change its name and policies to allow girls into its Cubs program in 2018 to help boost declining membership and broaden its appeal to families. Despite lawsuits it successfully defended over several years seeking entry for females, it was finally changing times that broke down the group’s resistance to allowing girls to join. The organization has a long history of adapting to the times.
Savannah Hafer, Sarah Mortimore and sisters Peyton and Riley Weber are the first group to reach the Eagle Scout designation in the Prescott troop, and Sabrina Agosti will complete her program by years' end. The girls say they worked hard to complete the rigorous program.
Riley Weber was the first of the group to push for a girls’ chapter of BSA Scouting, figuring that she was missing out on what her brother got to do. She and her sister had already been active in Girl Scouts, and their troop was awarded a Silver Award for public service in putting a Little Library in The Crossings area of Prescott.
“I saw my brother and didn’t understand why I couldn’t do it, so I felt we needed to change it,” Riley said. “The highest award you can earn in the Girl Scout program is the Gold Award, and it’s not easily recognized like the Eagle Award. Honestly, I think you learn so many more life skills from Eagle than you would ever through Girl Scouts.”
Hafer said she had much the same experience in wanting to join the BSA. “I always wanted to go through (it) when my little brother was a scout, like going camping and going to camp. I could do all of these projects that I wasn’t able to do with other groups. I would encourage other girls to go through this experience because they get a whole other aspect in being a scout.”
Experienced Scoutmasters Michael Frost and Bill Weber stepped up to help guide the Troop, joined by Louise Mortimore, Sarah’s mother, and Jodi Weber, Bill’s wife. Bill Weber said the moms were “a huge help” in getting the troop organized. “They were definitely instrumental and made a really good team for this group,” he said.
Moms and daughters learned together. Jodi Weber said, “Some of the moms didn’t have the same life skills as Mike and Bill, so it was a learning process for us as well.”
Mike Frost, who had been a troop leader for both Boy and Girl Scouts, said the BSA program appealed to his daughter Katie, who had envied her brother AJ’s progress in the boys’ program. She is too young to work toward Eagle Scout yet.
“The Girl Scouts program was good because it offered a lot of customization, but the BSA has specific skill sets required for anyone who wants to be an Eagle Scout,” Frost said. “In Scouting BSA there’s a set of 13 merit badges that every Eagle Scout must have …, like lifesaving, emergency preparedness, camping, citizenship — which includes community, world and nation — cooking badges, which include not only cooking at home, but also cooking out in the wilderness, and a lot of the public-health stuff that goes into cooking, how to make it taste good and be good for you. The camping merit badge requires 20 days and nights of being out there camping in a number of environments.”
Other badges range from personal finance and physical fitness to conservation and communication. Optional badges include such formerly male-dominated areas as nuclear science, automotive repair and oceanography. Sarah Mortimore said a lot of the badges weren’t available in the Girl Scouts program.
“For me personally, I found that some of the merit badges that were most intriguing were metalworking, small-boat sailing, kayaking, Indian lore, and other simple ones, like dog care,” Mortimore said. “They were all really fun and we got to spend time with fellow scouts and scouts in other troops. Some we got to do at Fiesta Island in California, so it was not only our troop, and our brother troop, but it was troops from other parts of the US, and we got to learn together and work together as a team to
all gain the skills.”
Motorboating and small-boat sailing were Peyton’s favorite badges. “We did that in California, where there were more options,” Peyton said. “It was cool to do the teamwork to figure something new out with other scouts. We got to get to know the scouts better. Some our scouts accidentally capsized a boat, but it was really cool to see them get it back up and running.”
The Eagle Scout program gives both boys and girls valuable skills they can use over a lifetime, Frost points out. “If there’s an emergency, you’re going to know what to do in that emergency, anything from a car breaking down to a house on fire,” Frost said. “You’re going to have the basics of how to stay safe and how to keep other people safe, and you’ll know how to do first aid. … You’re going to have an understanding of environmental science and ecology and sustainability throughout life.”
One of the requirements is a service project to benefit a group or the community. Sarah Mortimore did a project to memorialize veterans at the American Legion. Peyton and Riley Weber did a project at the YMCA. Jodi Weber said the girls adapted to being among the first in the new wave, despite doubts from some of the boys and their leaders at their camp experience in California, especially since it was the first time the camp had accepted girls, which some had frowned on.
“For me it was really exciting to see young women go kind of into the unknown, because that was their first true camping experience within the BSA,” Jodi said. “It was interesting too because there were other troops that weren’t sure about our young ladies, and they weren’t rude, but they weren’t as friendly as I had been hoping. But it was neat because at the end of the week we had these other troops come up to us and acknowledge how impressed they were with how our girls handled themselves, the skills that they had and their personalities reaching out to say hello to every single troop. It was exciting to see that turn in attitude in just one week.”
The girls not only impressed the troops, but also their leaders. “In this troop of eight, they competed sometimes with troops that had 30, 40 or 50 boys and they walked away with a very prestigious award called the High Honor Troop, which means they get their troop number listed in the sail room and it will be there forever, as long as the camp is there,” Bill said. “That’s a really hard award to earn, especially when you’re out of council.”
Savannah, Sarah and Riley are seniors. Savannah said she believes the Eagle Scout award will help her get into the colleges she’s applied to. Peyton is a junior and will be applying to colleges next year. “For a long time I’ve always shopped for Ivy League schools such as Dartmouth and Brown, and I feel like with the Eagle Scout award on my application, it will look really good,” Savannah said. “I’m not going to lie, that is the reason I put so much work into this, and while I had fun, to have that on my application is extremely rewarding. Also I think it will help because in college there are Eagle Scout fraternities, and I think it will be really interesting to see if I can get into one of those and shake it up a little bit.”
Sarah, who isn’t planning to go to college and is instead planning to study to become an electrician, said, “Many of the things that I’ve learned in Scouting will certainly help me in the field, especially spending time with a group that’s more male than female. … I’ve already learned how to make my own way in an area that’s newer and not as common.”
Riley, who earned a medicine merit badge and a public-health badge, was accepted to the College of Public Health at the University of Arizona, where she will go after she graduates.
Now that the first group has made Eagle Scout, Jodi Weber said she thinks the Troop will grow.
“We still have six to eight scouts and are actively recruiting because we know what a valuable program this is, and can’t wait to welcome other girls into the program.”
Toni Denis is a frequent contributor to 5enses.