Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

So, we made it through Girl Scout cookie season with our waistlines still trim. (Right?)

But this was an unusual year. As of Feb. 1, after some debate and even some litigation, those American girls, once they hit ages 11-17, became eligible to join what for over a century was called the Boy Scouts.

It’s now called Scouts BSA, and its National Capital Area Council website is packed with photos of girls who joined to learn to “Be Prepared!” for adventure, education, service and leadership.

I recently spoke to Arlington resident Francesca Fierro O’Reilly, volunteer chair of Scouts BSA for the Chain Bridge District (3,000 kids in 80 units at all levels). She says the new approach of “family scouting” is going like gangbusters. “We’ve had a fantastic response since Feb. 1,” she said. The capital-area Scouts BSA council leads the nation with roughly 530 girls registered, 96 of them in eight troops in her Chain Bridge District.

“Arlington is unique — we’ve always been a stronghold of scouting while other areas have seen a decline,” O’Reilly added. “The best and brightest come here due to the military, the government and the types of businesses. There’s a strong tradition in families.”

Though Scouts in recent decades have endured some ordeals — from apathy, to challenges to anti-gay policies, to cases of sex abuse — the admission of girls has not, according to O’Reilly, produced awkward moments.

“What BSA heard from their families was that they were interested in family scouting. They wanted both their sons and their daughters to have access to the same program at same time.” That allows more busy 21st-century American families to be involved and eases scheduling and transportation, she said. “If they have two or more children, they don’t have to make a choice, one place for sons and another for daughters.”

Increased access for girls began last year with the Cub Scouts, O’Reilly said. And another change has been the introduction of more options in the familiar olive and khaki uniforms for older scouts (still blue for the cubbies, and green for the Girl Scouts). “Different types of folks are built differently, so they can pick from girls’ and boys’ outfits and mix and match,” she said.

Yes, modern-day scouts must compete for youth attention against specialized sports, video gaming, even computer programming, O’Reilly acknowledged. And family dynamics have changed, with more working parents. “Scouts BSA has tried to listen to our customers, and the families asked us to supply the additional program.”

George Dodge, the Arlington attorney who for a half-century has been a member, scoutmaster and historian for Arlington Troop 149, blesses the change. There was movement on such issues as early as 1971, and he recalls a 1980s legal case involving the Arlington Jaycees service club, in which women challenged the all-male club for disadvantaging them.

Though some kids develop better in a single-gender organization, Dodge added, “in the real world, men and women work together. So I see this as an opportunity for young girls to experience that.”

Whether kids and their families stick with scouting, he added, depends mostly on the leaders. “It’s not the numbers, it’s the quality of the experience.”

And yes, the traditional Girl Scouts, still delivering those cookie boxes, thrive — with a continued commitment to their single-gender mission.

The Madison Center on April 25 opened its doors to a regional team from the National Park Service.

With no available venue in McLean, the rangers came to Arlington and set up photo displays for public outreach on next steps for the Claude Moore Colonial Farm, the living 18th-century history exhibit that NPS closed in December over a regulatory clash with the nonprofit operator.

Dozens of citizens swung by and left suggestions on how to use that patch of unspoiled suburban land at Turkey Run. They ranged from adding a dog park to running trails. The biggest vote-getter? Keeping a colonial farm.