Girl power, scout’s honor: Meet the 10-year-old forming the Valley’s first Boy Scout troop for girls

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  • Ella Cleary, center, 10, and her fellow Westhampton Troop 209 Scouts Sam Jenkins, foreground left, 11, and Isaac Stith, 10, plant a sugar maple on North Road in Westhampton, July 9, with help from Sam’s father, forester Tom Jenkins, far left. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ella Cleary, 10, holds some of the Scouting pins she has earned in Westhampton Troop 209. Photographed on Tuesday, July 9, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ella Cleary, 10, talks about her experience in Westhampton Scout Troop 209. Photographed on Tuesday, July 9, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ella Cleary, center,10, and her fellow Westhampton Troop 209 Scouts Isaac Stith, left, 10, and Sam Jenkins, 11, plant a sugar maple on North Road in Westhampton on Tuesday, July 9, 2019, with help from Sam’s father, forester Tom Jenkins, backround left, neighbor Mike Holt, and her father, Tom Cleary, right. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ella Cleary, 10, holds some of the Scouting pins she has earned in Westhampton Troop 209. Photographed on Tuesday, July 9, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ella Cleary, 10, and her fellow Westhampton Troop 209 Scouts plant a sugar maple on North Road in Westhampton on Tuesday, July 9, 2019, with help from forester Tom Jenkins, right. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ella Cleary, 10, talks about her experience in Westhampton Scout Troop 209. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

For the Gazette
Published: 7/15/2019 4:58:15 PM

WESTHAMPTON — Ten-year-old Ella Cleary has been tagging along on fishing and camping trips with her brothers, Carter and William, since Carter, now 12, joined the Cub Scouts six years ago. At the time, programs with the Boy Scouts of America, or BSA, weren’t open to girls. But after the February launch of the Scouts BSA program, Ella is now is working to form the first all-girl Scouts troop in the BSA-designated Metacomet District, which includes the city of Holyoke and communities in Hampshire and Franklin counties.

Ella was able to officially join the Cub Scouts after the Boy Scouts of America announced in October 2017 that its board of directors had unanimously approved welcoming girls into the Cub Scouts program.

Scouts BSA offers programs to troops of kids aged 11-17. Girls are now eligible to receive the highest Eagle Scout ranking.

The Gazette spoke with Ella while she was at work digging and raking dirt while planting a maple tree for her “Into the Woods” merit badge. She has a big, sweet smile, but she’s tough. She recalled how once, on a scouting fishing trip, she pulled a fish hook out of her finger. “That hurts a lot more coming out than it does going in,” she said at the time.

Being one of the only girls in the troop didn’t bother Ella, a rising sixth grader at Westhampton Elementary School.

“I mean, I live with all boys. It’s not much different,” Ella said. Many of the boys in the troop are friends of her brothers she knew previously and played with at home.

Ella has also shown interest in the Girl Scouts, but she said the Cub Scouts program offers activities that are more her style.

“It’s more outdoorsy and interactive,” she said. In Girl Scouts, “we did activities … but we didn’t go camping for a whole night. With the Boy Scouts, you stay the whole night and make your own food. On the past camping trip, we whittled our own marshmallow sticks.”

According to Metacomet District Executive Don Carlson, Ella is among roughly three girls registered for Boy Scout and Cub Scout programs in the district.

Alex Cantor, senior district executive for western Massachusetts’ General Knox District — which includes 18 Hampden County communities — said BSA’s decision to open programming to girls was largely prompted by girls’ interest in the activities. Cantor said that many girls with siblings participating in Boy Scouts or Cub Scouts already had participated in the programs anyway.

According to Cantor, an all-girl troop recently formed in Westfield and is chartered with Westfield’s American Legion Post 124.

Another all-girl troop was chartered Feb. 1 in Gardner, under the leadership of Lynn and Matthew Denette, scoutmaster and assistant scoutmaster, respectively. Matthew Denette said that challenges have included fielding questions from “people who don’t understand or want to take the time to understand” why girls have entered the program.

“Having girls learning the life skills that make Scouts better human beings does not detract in any way from boys learning the same skills,” Denette wrote in an email to the Gazette.

Preserving history — and making it

According to Ella’s father, Tom Cleary, who will serve as scoutmaster for the all-girl troop, as a Cub Scout Ella took initiative in planning outings for Troop 209. She and rising seventh grader Dana Warren approached state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa at the annual Westhampton Memorial Day picnic and were able to help coordinate a June 25 trip to the Massachusetts State House in Boston, where they met Attorney General Maura Healey and shadowed Sabadosa during meetings and hearings.

Ella and Dana also testified in support of a bill for a “Women’s Rights History Trail” that would include Massachusetts landmarks such as the Sojourner Truth Memorial in Northampton. They advocated for several other local sites to be included on the trail, including the downtown Northampton mural visible from Masonic Street, “The History of Women in Northampton from 1600-1980.”

Scouts who went on the trip earned the “Citizenship in the Nation” merit badge. The badge is awarded to scouts who learn how to participate actively in government as citizens.

Although all-girl and all-boy troops must be chartered independently and have separate scoutmasters, Tom Cleary says that members of the all-girl and all-boy troops in Westhampton will follow a linked troop model that enables them to continue to work on merit badges and participate in activities together.

According to Ella and her friend Phoebe Bowser, also 10 and a newly registered scout with the all-girl Westhampton troop, they will enjoy scouting with boys who were previously members of Troop 209.

“There are things that I’ve done that are just for girls, but it’s good to do things with a diverse group,” Phoebe said. She shares Ella’s interest in hiking and camping and has enjoyed participating in activities like going to the State House.

Scoutmaster Rachael Hathaway will head the all-boy troop that’s linked to the all-girl one. She is among the few female scoutmasters in the area but expects that more women will join as programming for girls catches on.

“I think that it’s empowering for girls to be able to do the stuff boys are doing: shooting bows and arrows, shooting guns, building fire,” said Hathaway, who reestablished the Cub Scout program in Westhampton when she and her son, Dewey Hathaway, moved to the area. She advocated for the chartering of the all-girl troop with BSA’s Western Massachusetts Council.

As she continues to contact girls in her community to find more scouts for her troop, Ella looks forward to introducing others to the joys of scouting, she said: “I’m excited for camping with all these other girls and for our whole troop to teach them what Boy Scouts is about.”




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