FARGO - When kids think about groups like Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, images of badges and campfires might dance in their heads.
But for parents, family values are also a factor, especially with controversy surrounding both the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts in recent years.
Boy Scouts of America has been criticized for reaffirming its policy of excluding people who are gay after a confidential two-year review.
Girl Scouts of the USA has taken heat for programs and material some think are too sexually explicit and for reportedly partnering with Planned Parenthood, according to various news sources.
Danielle Maple of Jamestown, N.D., will not let her boys, ages 2 and 7, participate in Boy Scouts as long as the group maintains its gay exclusion policy, she said.
“That’s discrimination at its best,” she said. “What the Boy Scouts do and their activities are wonderful. They can be empowering and build a lot of skills for these kids in life, however overshadowing that with open discrimination is not OK.”
She said she has a friend who was involved in Boy Scouts for 18 years, but he is openly gay and can no longer participate.
“He learned leadership, teamwork, problem-solving and has used it in his career,” Maple said. “But it really bothers me that after the years and dedication he put into the program, he can no longer pass those values down to the next generation.”
Maple said she’s trying to raise her children to be open-minded in a conservative state, and she doesn’t want them to discriminate against anyone for any reason.
Jill Schroeder of rural Lake Park, Minn., said the controversy won’t keep her 16-year-old son Garrett from scouting.
He is an only child raised by a single mom. He also has Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. Participating in Scouts since first grade has taught her son how to relate to and talk to people, she said.
“He’s become really outgoing,” Schroeder said. “He’s gone from a shy kid who would never talk to anybody to two years in a row he’s the top salesman in popcorn sales.”
He’s even earned a rank of Eagle Scout.
As far as the controversy goes, Schroeder said Boy Scouts teaches them to respect others, and their group is filled with people of all different religions and backgrounds. She said she doesn’t feel sexuality is an issue that should be brought up in Boy Scouts.
Jeff Ottosen, Northern Lights Council Boy Scouts of America director of field service, said the Boy Scouts policy hasn’t been an issue locally.
Ottosen and his son have both been in Scouts, and he said the benefits are incredible.
“You really have the opportunity to build good character, good citizens, future leaders of our communities and all of that while having a good time with friends,” he said.
Local Girl Scouts troops haven’t really been affected by the national controversy, either, though some parents have asked about it, said Ann Metli, Girl Scouts Dakota Horizons communications officer.
A March 18, 2010 Washington Times story reported that a mother found sexual brochures produced by Planned Parenthood at a panel sponsored by the Girl Scouts USA at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
The brochure, “Healthy, Happy and Hot,” is a sexual guide for young people living with HIV published by the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
But Girl Scouts says it has no relationship with Planned Parenthood, it has never had a relationship with Planned Parenthood, it did not distribute the brochure, and Girl Scouts doesn’t take a position or develop materials on the issues of human sexuality, birth control or abortion.
“We just feel it’s between a girl and her family, and we don’t have any business getting into that,” Metli said.
Metli said there have been two instances in which parents have chosen not to participate because of an article they’ve read.
While Girl Scouts has always been very good about the safety of their girls and monitoring who is around them, the organization has had to become even more careful, Metli said.
Now, when the scouts travel to events, like United Nations seminars, they are told not to take any papers from anyone who is not part of Girl Scouts.
“We had to set some pretty strict guidelines about that,” Metli said. “It (the controversy) did change our way of thinking.”
Controversy aside, Metli said Girl Scouts is making a difference in the lives of girls everywhere. The group has 3.2 million girl and adult members worldwide.
Toni Stith, a West Fargo Girl Scout leader, said the group has been an important part of her own leadership development and has strengthened her relationship with her daughter.
Stith and her daughter have been involved in Girl Scouts for the past nine years, since her daughter was 5 years old. They work on projects together and do volunteer work and educational events together, Stith said.
“Girl Scouts has been as good for me as it has been for my daughter because I really can’t think of another way that we could have done so much together and grown as much together if we didn’t have a mother-daughter outlet like that.”
Girl Scouts has also taught her daughter valuable leadership skills and given her more confidence, Stith said.
AMERICAN HERITAGE GIRLS
A new children’s social group called American Heritage Girls has started in Fargo. It’s the first troop in the state, but interest in the organization has taken off in recent years, partly because of the Girl Scouts controversy, said Jody Token, American Heritage Girls public relations coordinator.
American Heritage Girls is a Christian-based nonprofit organization that offers programming similar to Girl and Boy Scouts. Girls can earn badges and take part in a variety of activities, but the group also heavily emphasizes service to God.
There are 20,000 members in 48 states. The group had an almost 50 percent increase in membership nationwide last year and expects to see 60 to 100 percent growth this coming year, Token said.
“People really resonated with wanting a wholesome scouting experience that honored their faith,” she said. “Beyond that, American Heritage Girls has 240 badges, and a lot of them focus on leadership, the outdoors, science and technology and life skills.”
Lynn Kotrba, the Fargo American Heritage Girls troop coordinator, helped start the local troop because she said she and some other parents were looking for a more faith-based scouting group.
“It looks like a strong, high-quality group with strong morals and values,” she said. “The mission of American Heritage Girls is to build women of integrity through service to God, family, community and country.”
North Dakota was the 48th state to start a troop. The local troop was chartered in July through Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Fargo. Girls ages 5 through 18 can participate and nearly 30 are registered so far.
The group is open to all girls of any background and you don’t have to be Christian to participate. Service is also a big part of American Heritage Girls.
Jill Moraghan of Fargo is a troop leader and her daughter is a troop member. She said she thought the group would be a good fit for her daughter because it reinforces their Christian values.
“I really like that it’s going to teach social development and character development and she’ll learn some of those life skills that a lot of the groups teach, but it’s not going to leave out that spiritual aspect,” she said.
Her daughter is just excited about the activities and spending time with friends, Moraghan said.