No one around her doubted that 14-year-old Scarlett Helmecki would make it to the rank of Eagle Scout.
“She just wanted it, and that’s what you have to have, whether you’re a boy or girl,” Catherine Kaser, one of the founding leaders of the all-girl Scouts BSA Troop 1923, said as Scarlett’s family and fellow troop members gathered Saturday to celebrate her place in history.
It’s been just over two years since girls were allowed to join Scouts BSA— formerly known as the Boy Scouts — and earn the program’s top rank of Eagle Scout.
In February, Scouts BSA — which is for youth aged 11 to 17 — graduated its inaugural class of about 1,000 female Eagle Scouts across the country. And last weekend in Pike Creek, Del., where Troop 1923 is based, Scarlett — the first girl in a Delaware troop to become an Eagle Scout — had her Court of Honor ceremony, where she accepted the Eagle Scout challenge.
“I’m a very ambitious person,” she said moments before the ceremony began. “I kind of figured, if I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do it to the fullest. And I want to be one of the first.”
Only about 6% of Scouts achieve the Eagle Scout rank, according to the Boy Scouts of America — the umbrella organization for Scouts BSA and other programs like Venturing and Sea Scouting, which have accepted girls since the 1970s.
The Eagle Scout rank requires 21 merit badges, covering topics from first aid to environmental science. Boy Scouts of America says it takes a minimum of 19 months to achieve, but that can be longer if there are fewer opportunities to earn merit badges in a Scout’s area.
“I earned this”
Scarlett joined BSA Troop 1923 after it was formed two years ago. It was the first female Scouts BSA troop in Delaware, and along the way Scarlett and her friends endured teasing from male Scouts — and even some belittling comments from adults.
“Like, ‘Boy Scouts is just for boys,’ or, ‘Well then why can’t boys be in Girl Scouts,’ and, ‘You already have Girl Scouts,'” Scarlett remembered during an interview earlier this year.
At the ceremony on Saturday, Scarlett didn’t seem bothered by those things. She was focused on her achievement, and stressed that no one had cut her any slack just because she was a girl.
“You can’t really let a lot of things get to you,” she said. “I mean, no one really gave me an easy rank requirement or signed it off really easy because I’m a girl. They always pushed me … because they knew people would say, ‘Hey, you didn’t really earn this. They’re just giving it to you.’ No, I earned this.”
Achieving the Eagle Scout rank also takes a significant investment of time and energy from the adults in a Scout’s life. Scarlett’s mom, Shannon Helmecki, says she loves going on Scout camping trips with her daughter.
“There’s times where I’m not asked to go because they have so many other volunteers, and I’m like, ‘I’m missing out!'” she said. “I’ve loved every bit of it.”
Shannon says she would have been “all in” on Scouts BSA if she’d gotten the chance as a kid.
“My family was heavily involved in Scouts,” she said. “My dad was a scoutmaster, my brother was a Scout. And when I was her age, I used to go on some random camping trips, but did not have the opportunities for the outdoor adventure that she has been given.”
Scarlett says she’s into basketball, woodworking and camping.
“I really like looking up at the stars,” she said. “That’s part of why I don’t like sleeping in a tent, because I don’t really sleep well. So most nights, I just lay there on the ground or in a hammock or on a platform or in a shelter that I built.”
Troop 1923 aims to go on monthly outdoor adventures, like hiking, rock-climbing or whitewater rafting. Scarlett says it was the promise of frequent outdoor experiences that drew her to Scouts BSA over Girl Scouts in the first place.
Girl Scouts has rejected the idea that it doesn’t provide outdoor adventure opportunities, and has criticized Boy Scouts of America for trying to recruit girls away from its troops.
Building leadership skills
Catherine Kaser and her husband Patrick started Troop 1923. It’s named after the year that Delaware ratified the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.
The Kasers’ sons are already involved with scouting, and they don’t have any daughters.
Patrick says he started thinking about supporting female leaders when he noticed them underrepresented in the financial service industry where he works.
“I love scouting, I love the program, I love being outdoors. It’s a natural extension,” Kaser said. “If there’s a shortage or historical obstacles to young women being leaders, this is a great program for leadership development.”
That’s exactly what attracted ninth-grader Olivia Jordan to Scouts BSA. She’d been a Girl Scout before joining Troop 1923, and says she found her Girl Scout troop to be more adult-driven.
“I thought it was more fulfilling to be able to lead my own troop, and really put work into the badges and the honors that you can get instead of having adults push you through the program,” she said.
Olivia is aware of the gender barriers she and the rest of Troop 1923 are breaking.
“But most of the boys’ troops in our area, once they get over the confusion of having girls there, they’ve been very supportive,” she said.
Olivia wants to go into politics when she’s older. She’s Troop 1923’s elected senior patrol leader — and is going after Eagle Scout too.
“It’s the ultimate goal for Scouts, at the end of the day,” she said. “Just being able to say you’ve earned something and having people know how much work you put into it — it’s very fulfilling.”