BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — It’s been three years since girls were welcomed to join Scouts BSA, formerly known known as the Boy Scouts.
Now, some of those girls are Eagle Scouts, and others are close to earning the prestigious designation, including Jeanetta Lewis.
“My younger self would probably just stare at me in confusion and ask, ‘How?'” Lewis said.
She watched her brothers grow up in Scouts. For as long as she can remember, she wanted to be part of it.
“I wanted to learn all the skills they were learning, I wanted to do all the things they were doing.”
Turns out, Lewis wasn’t the only one. Gabby Wild. Falcon O’Donnell, Eva Peters and Ava Romeo also watched brothers excel in the program.
All five never felt Girl Scouts was a good fit.
At the beginning of 2019, Scouts BSA announced it would be allowing girls to join. For these girls, it was a long time coming.
“My younger brother joined as a Lion and my dad said I could do it ’cause they just opened it up, so I went to one of his meetings, and I found it kind of cool,” Wild said.
“I always wanted and hoped someday I could do it and stuff like that, it always seemed like a lot fun,” Peters added.
“I learned girls were allowed into the scouting program and I’m like, ‘Finally!'” Romeo said.
While Wild joined later, the other four girls have been together since the beginning, led by Scoutmaster Leah Romeo. Scouting has been a family tradition for all three of her children, and she said Scouts BSA was by far the best fit.
“When I heard what the structure of the BSA was gonna be where the girls would have their own leadership and the boys were gonna have their own leadership, and then they would just work together, that was impressive,” she said. “So it made me much more comfortable that everybody was gonna have equal opportunity.”
The troop goes on campouts and the girls have earned lots of merit badges. They support each other as individuals, but do everything as a group.
“I’m really proud of us as a troop, and how far we’ve come, and how we’re so diligent in our work and how we can make things work for us in the toughest times,” O’Donnell said. “All of these experiences have bonded us closer together as a group and it’s been very beneficial I think for all of us to learn from each other.”
In 2020, O’Donnell became the first female Eagle Scout in Erie County.
“Everyone was saying, ‘Oh this is a really great achievement, you’re the first girl in all of the Greater Niagara Frontier Council.’ And I’m like, ‘That means something to me, but probably doesn’t mean as much as it should,’ and I’ll probably look back on it when I’m older and I’ll be like, ‘Wow I did that.'”
The other girls are close behind, many of them just months away from becoming Eagle Scouts themselves.
“It’s always been something that excited me, so the prospect of actually being this close to it makes me feel happy whenever I think about it, and I feel it’ll make me proud of myself to know that I managed to become an Eagle Scout,” Lewis said.
Ava Romeo spoke to the feeling of achieving what her older brother had.
“I was always trying to be as good as my big brother, ’cause I was always wanting to earn every merit badge and get the highest rank and stuff in the other programs, just like him, ’cause I wanted to be at least as good as him,” she said. “I feel really good.”
Scoutmaster Romeo said this experience shows there’s a good and balanced way for everybody to be equal. She said while everyone will approach the program differently, they’ll all have the same opportunity and said it’s a good example for society.
“I hope to see that people have choices and the girls have opportunities in lots of different places — and ironically — it was with the Boys Scouts of America that they got this cool opportunity to be equal and do a program they didn’t have access to before.”
The girls agree: it was the best decision they ever made.
“I hope one day its not just male-dominated, it’s not ‘Girls are joining the boys,’ it’s that it’s actually equal-equal.”
The Greater Niagara Frontier Council registered 223 girls by the end of last year. They say interest from local girls is only continuing to grow.