Photo by Michael Roytek, Courtesy of Boy Scouts of America
Thinking about signing your child up for the Scouts? Here’s what to know about Scouting, badges, and, of course, the cookies.
Whether your child is hoping to develop responsibility, improve leadership skills, build a sense of community, cultivate friends, learn something new, or just experience the great outdoors, Scouting presents unique opportunities for enrichment. What follows is our roundup of everything you need to get your kid on the road to Scouting in Westchester, including new-age badges, expert tips, and gear. And yes… we remembered to include the cookies!
What Is Scouting?
Follow along as we lay down the basics.
According to Crestwood’s Girl Scout Troop 2546 leader, Jennifer Zuccarelli, “Girl Scouts promotes being responsible with resources, understanding nature, outdoors, athletics, and business opportunities — teaching how a female can become an entrepreneur, how they can be involved in business, and it just builds as girls go through the program. It starts very simply, and as girls’ abilities increase, the demands, the learning, and the experiences just get more intense.”
Jennifer Donohue, the director of marketing and communications for Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson, says “The mission statement for Girl Scouting is ‘to build girls of courage, confidence, and character who will make the world a better place.’ They learn programming that’s devised around four pillars, which are STEM, outdoors, life skills, and entrepreneurship.” She notes that overall, Girl Scouts provides young ladies with “leadership skills that will benefit them for their rest of their lives, even if they’re in Girl Scouts for only a year or two.”
When it comes to what these skills actually are, Girl Scouts has never stopped evolving them. “We are a nearly 111-year-old organization, and so obviously we’ve had to change with the times and kind of meet girls where they are,” says Donohue. “Every year, we introduce new badges, new programs, or update programs to meet the needs of today. Sometimes that could just be putting in more inclusive language or updating the program to include more relevant material.”
Boy Scouts of America
Stephen Melnyk, Scoutmaster of Troop 1 in Crestwood, is quick to note that Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is one of the only organizations “that emphasizes leadership skills and develops confident, capable young men and women who are service-oriented and ready to take on the world.”
According to the Boy Scout Handbook, the mission of the BSA “is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.” The Scout Oath involves the Scout pledging he or she “will do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” The Scout Law, meanwhile, deems that Scouts be “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” The path to these lofty goals begins with Cub Scouts, which can start as early as kindergarten.
“Cub Scouting is a family program. It’s nominally a boy pack, but we get a lot of siblings; we get a lot of families; we get also a lot of girls who show up to the meetings, and they take part in the activities and do all the same things the boys do,” says Melnyk. “At the Cub Scouting level, everything is run by the den leader, and it’s all age-specific tasks. There is a den meeting once every two weeks and an activity once a month, such as going to a police station, fire station, or a local veterans’ organization.”
As Scouts get older, their responsibilities grow. “Once they become Star or Life, we start drawing from that pool of senior leadership for senior patrol leaders, assistant Scoutmasters, things like that,” says Melnyk. “So, the first half of their journey is all about acquiring knowledge, while the second-half of their journey is all about providing leadership structure and then teaching that knowledge back to the younger group.” As the Boy Scouts of America website eloquently notes, Scouting builds “the foundations for humility and compassion — strengthening character through actions — to prepare youth for a lifetime of leadership.”
How do ranks work in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts? We trace the paths to greatness below.
kindergarten and first grade
second and third grades
fourth and fifth grades
sixth through eighth grades
ninth and 10th grades
11th and 12th grades
Cub Scouts (grades K-5)
fourth and fifth grades
Scouts BSA (ages 11–17; rank not tied to grade)
Boy Scouts vs. Girl Scouts
Now that we know the fundamentals, how exactly are Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts different?
According to Jennifer Donohue, director of marketing and communications for Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson, Girl Scouts welcomes anyone who was born a girl or identifies as a girl. “This includes cisgender girls, trans girls, and nonbinary youth,” says Donohue. “Girl Scouting is meant to be a welcome space that allows girls and nonbinary youth the chance to raise their hands, explore their interests, and speak out on things that they’re passionate about.”
As girls rank up from Daisy to Ambassador, they accrue both badges and leadership awards, each of which is tailored to age. “The badges are basically a signifier that you have learned something,” says Donohue. “There are six program levels: Daisy, Brownie, Junior, Cadet, Senior, and Ambassador, and those go from kindergarten through 12th grade. The badges are designed with those ages in mind. So, obviously the Ambassador badges are a little more intensive than the Daisy badges, but they’re still teaching the same kind of skills.”
Beyond badges, Girl Scouts can also strive for Bronze, Silver, and Gold Awards. “As scouts get older, they can earn what’s known as their highest awards,” says Donohue. “So, starting in Juniors, which is 4th and 5th grade, they can earn their Bronze Awards, then move on when they become Cadets (6th through 8th grade) to their Silver Awards and then the Gold Award. The Gold Award is akin to the Eagle Scout rank in Boy Scouts, and that is the highest award in Girl Scouting.” Ambassadors earn the Gold Award “by developing and carrying out lasting solutions to issues in their neighborhoods and beyond,” according to the Girl Scouts website.
Girl Scouts can also choose a more informal option, called Juliettes. “Being a Juliette means that you basically get to create your own schedule. So, you can do the badge work and participate in the council programs that you’re interested in, but you’re not tied to a specific group,” says Donohue. “Juliettes get to participate in the cookie program. They can go to camp; they can do everything that girls in a troop get to do. But the get to do it on their own terms and on their own time, which is just a really great option for kids whose schedules just don’t fit into a traditional troop setting.”
As anyone with a sweet tooth will attest, cookie sales are also a major element of Girl Scouting. “Girl Scout Cookie sales are great opportunity for the girls to learn five key life skills, which are: goal setting, decision-making, money management, people skills, and business ethics,” says Donohue. Jennifer Zuccarelli, the leader of Crestwood’s Troop 2546, agrees it is a major moment in the career of every Girl Scout.
“It’s really neat now that you have an online platform for sales. Troops can do in-person sales, and you can host cookie-booth sales, which are just phenomenal and can pop-up all-over Westchester,” says Zuccarelli. “We tend to frequent The Westchester. We always put the profits toward the girls’ experience because it’s really important that the girls are enjoying their time in Scouting and are able to pursue their interests.”
Finally, when girls aren’t selling cookies, they are likely engaged in community service. “We have a great relationship with the [Veterans Adminstration], so the girls do a lot throughout Veterans Day, the winter holidays, and Memorial Day, like sending cards and care packages, [participating in] food drives and coat drives, and cleaning up their local parks,” says Donohue. “There are so many options, and our volunteers are really creative with what they get their girls involved in.”
Prospective Girl Scouts can find a nearby troop at girlscouts.org
Boy Scouts of America
Nowadays, both boys and girls are welcome to join the BSA. However, according to Scoutmaster Melnyk, that doesn’t mean groups are coed but rather divided between boy troops and girl troops. Melnyk says that meetings for his troop take place weekly. “[Troop 1] is a completely boy-led troop,” says Melnyk. “The older Scouts are the ones who must come up with the program, and they are the ones in charge of training the younger Scouts — giving them skills, teaching them to go camping, and what to do and what not to do. My job as Scoutmaster is simply to make sure that the youth leadership is working properly. They’re responsible for everything else.”
Merit badges are a major element of this work. “Merit badges are required once you hit [the ranks of] Star, Life, and Eagle. You still need 21 merit badges to get to Eagle, 11 being required,” says Melnyk. “I like to tell people badges are now more like a taste of life. Some of them are required — like Cooking and Camping are normal badges — but one that I liked as a kid was Dentistry; another one was Law. They just intrigued me. So, merit badges are a way for you to discover something that you might want to do someday. I think we are up to 140 badges now, and they have kept up with the times. For instance, I’m a counselor for the Programming merit badge and the Game Design badge.”
Once a scout has accrued their fair share of merit badges, they can strive to attain the rank of Eagle Scout. “In the modern vernacular, the Eagle Project is a capstone project. Not every scout tries it, because it’s a lot of work,” says Melnyk. “An Eagle Project is supposed to showcase the leadership skills of the candidate.” This involves the scout developing a project concept, working with a mentor, communicating an approved project to the community, fundraising, securing any necessary permits, scheduling work crews, and passing a final board of review. What participants end up with is the highest-possible rank in Scouting and an enduring impact on their communities.
Scouts also have plenty of other options, including National High Adventure Bases, where they can explore the Northern Tier’s rugged Canadian wilderness, a Florida sea base, the Bechtel Reserve, or New Mexico’s scenic Philmont Scout Ranch. Additionally, the BSA Family Adventure Camp offers Scouts of all ages (which can include cousins, friends, grandparents, and other family members) a chance to stay in New Mexico, West Virginia, or Florida, with lodging ranging from bunkhouses to luxury deluxe tents. Finally, jamborees, which occur once every four years, allow troops from across the globe to learn and compete together.
Prospective Boy Scouts can find a nearby troop at scouting.org
A Brave New World of Badges
While good ol’ wilderness skills aren’t going anywhere, both Girl and Boy Scouts can now pursue the next generation of tech-oriented badges.
A newer BSA badge, this patch involves learning how electronic devices work and how to use them effectively. Scouts are asked to provide a brief history of the changes in digital technology while brainstorming devices that could be available to them in the future.
The Boy Scouts’ Programming merit badge takes participants “behind the screen” for a look at the codes that make digital devices tick. Scouts choose a sample program with a counselor, modify and debug code, and demonstrate the modified program.
The Game Design badge teaches planning and critical-thinking skills to BSA members, introducing them to gaming terminology and analysis and then tasking them with planning and implementing their very own games as they learn about jobs in the industry.
This badge for Brownies (second and third graders) demands that Girl Scouts create algorithms for a computer, improve their algorithms, learn about women in computer science, and generate their own set of coding commands.
Senior Girl Scouts, or scouts in the fourth and fifth grades, build a prototype of a new kind of robot that either helps or replaces people laboring in difficult or dangerous situations. Scouts decide on a challenge, brainstorm solutions, plan and build a prototype, and test it to see how well it meets the challenge.
This badge aimed at Ambassadors — Girl Scouts in the 11th and 12th grades — involves running a drill to investigate and respond to a cyberattack on a fictional city. The scouts determine how the attack has affected the city, identify suspects, and figure out how to prevent future attacks.
From a trustworthy tent to a solid sleeping bag, there are a few items virtually every scout must possess. We round up some of our favorite locally available gear.
With pre-attached poles, a WeatherTec system with welded corners to keep moisture out and a frame that can withstand 35 mph winds, this four-person tent isn’t a bad choice when prepping for that next jamboree or just perfecting those ghost stories. $119.99; Dick’s Sporting Goods, Multiple County Locations; dickssportinggoods.com
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Since food is usually cooked by the entire troop, Scouts simply need a sturdy mess kit for most mealtimes. Nowadays, campers are enjoying newfangled kits constructed from a variety of materials. Exhibit A: This eminently compact mess kit perfect for packing, made from BPA-free, recycled polypropylene.$29.95; REI, Norwalk; rei.com
When camping year-round, as some troops do, it is easiest to have a sleeping bag that can always rise to the occasion. Since the occasion sometime involves temperatures that dip well below freezing, why not invest in a bag like this, with 650-fill-power down able to keep campers warm when the thermometer hits 0°F. $315; REI, Norwalk; rei.com
A well-made folding knife is often more useful than a clunky multitool for most campers. Might we recommend this specimen from Benchmade, boasting a carbon-coated finish, as well as CF-Elite handle technology, to allow for lighter weight and increased rigidity. $171; Dick’s Sporting Goods, Multiple County Locations; dickssportinggoods.com
This award-winning camping pillow that packs down to the size of a potato (!), inflates in seconds, and offers a surprisingly comfortable sleep, courtesy of a 3” I-beam baffled air cell and foam insulation. $44.95; L.L. Bean, Yonkers; llbean.com
Top Scouting Tips
Having been involved in Scouting for more than 40 years, Troop 1 Crestwood Scoutmaster and Eagle Scout Stephen Melnyk reveals his four top tips for incoming recruits.
Bring a Buddy
My first piece of advice is to always join up with a buddy, because we found for retention that if you have a friend in the troop, or you come in with a friend, it’s much easier to do. So, number one, come with a buddy.
Number two is to visit several troops. Each troop has a different characteristic and a different flavor. Some of them don’t meet as often as we do; some of them do different activities. So definitely visit a couple of troops and see what you like.
It’s Never Too Late
The third thing is that there is no bad time to join Scouting. What I mean by that is, our year starts in September, but if you show up in February, you’ll be welcome.
Scouting Can Fit
Our philosophy in the troop is that Scouting is complementary to sporting. We understand that the boys are very much involved in sports as well as Scouting, and if they have a game on a Saturday, we encourage them to come up to the camping trip after it. Don’t feel like you’re missing out on Scouting. We don’t want you to be missing your sporting events.
Volunteering For Adults
Are you a parent looking to become a bit more involved in your kid’s troop? Doing so is easy, according to our experts.
Troop 1 Crestwood’s Scoutmaster, Stephen Melnyk, says that parents are welcome to help, but the children’s safety is paramount. “I always tell the parents that you’re still needed. If you have a passion, you can become a merit badge counselor. If you want to be more hands off, we definitely need logistics, so whenever we drive to or from camping trips, we need parents to pick up and drop off,” says Melnyk. “All parents have to have what’s called Youth Protection Training, so they have to understand how Scouting works and the rules we have for the youth, which involve no one-on-one meetings with a Scout and every event having what’s called ‘two-deep leadership,’ where there has to be at least two parents in attendance.”
Jennifer Donohue, the director of marketing and communications for Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson, echoes the sentiment. “If parents want to sign up, they can do it on our website, girlscouts.org. They just click, ‘Volunteer With Us,’ then our staff reach out to them to go through the paperwork, get their background checks going, and go over the training they’ll need to complete before taking on any activities directly with girls, especially alone with girls,” says Donohue. “There’s a number of prerequisites that have to be done before being a troop leader or being involved in anything financial, but it’s a fairly easy process.”
Which Girl Scout Cookie Is Best?
We polled Westchester Magazine’s editors during a recent taste test to see which Girl Scout Cookie reigned supreme.
Ratings for each cookie are out of a total of 65 possible points.
And the winner is, with 51 points…Thin Mints!
As one editor put it: “They are my all-time favorite!”
2. Samoas: 48 Points
“Just as perfect as I remember them.”
3. Girl Scout Smores: 43 Points
“Better than expected.”
4. Do-Si-Dos: 39.5 Points
“Nutter Butter’s twin.”
5. Tagalongs: 39 Points
“Peanut butter and chocolate are always a perfect fit.”
6. Lemon-Ups: 32.5 Points
“If you love lemon, this cookie is for you.”
7. Adventurefuls: 31.5 Points
“Not enough caramel.”
8. Trefoils: 25.5 Points
“Bland compared to others.”
9. Raspberry Rally: 22.5 Points
“Tastes like cough syrup.”
Wondering which Girl Scout Cookie is most coveted by our county? We asked Westchester Magazine readers in a topical Instagram poll what they believe to be the true snack-time GOAT.
What is your favorite Girl Scout Cookie?
Do you buy Girl Scout Cookies every year?
The poll ran on Westchester Magazine’s Instagram account from Dec 21 to Dec 22, 2022.