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Four Santa Rosa girls are among first to join local Cub Scouts

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On a brisk Tuesday evening in Santa Rosa’s Howarth Park, Lucy O’Harren stood tall, filled with pride as she made history.

O’Harren, 6, was one of four young girls to become the first-ever female Cub Scouts in Santa Rosa by joining Bennett Valley’s Pack 55, a formerly all-boys unit. The group is the fourth in the region to accept girls into the traditionally all-male ranks, said Charlie Howard-Gibbon, the scout executive of Redwood Empire Council, which provides oversight to clubs in Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

“I felt brave,” said O’Harren, taking a break from playing in the grass at Camp Wa-Tam, where the initiation ceremony was held. “It’s nice being a Cub Scout. I’m excited to go to camp and make s’mores.”

The Boy Scouts of America in October announced plans to accept girls into its ranks, marking a large-scale change for the 108-year-old organization. Before this week, 11 girls have joined Cub Scout packs in Windsor, Petaluma and Potter Valley since February, bringing the total membership across the two counties to 666, Howard-Gibbon said.

By the end of the year, he said he hopes between 100 and 150 girls will join the organization. The transformation will continue next year, when older girls will be accepted into the Scouts, which serves youth from 11 to 17. Last week, the organization announced plans to drop in February the word “Boy” in references to its program.

It’s up to individual packs to decide to allow females to join, Howard-Gibbon said. For Pack 55 Cubmaster Mark Marigo and his group of about 50 kids, it was an easy choice, and one he hopes will inspire others.

“It will show girls they can achieve whatever they want in life,” he said. “We’re not putting a ceiling on what they can achieve. Scouting is about self-achievement.”

He said he’d not heard any blowback on the change from local Girl Scouts representatives, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Marlon O’Harren, Lucy’s 9-year-old brother, said the decision made sense.

“It’s really exciting and I was really looking forward to it,” said O’Harren, who graduated to a higher Scouting rank at the same Tuesday ceremony, where awards for various achievements were handed out. “I think it’s good girls are now joining — it’s more fair and better.”

Girls have been taking part in Sea Scouting, a nautical program, and Venturing and Exploring programs since the early 1970s, Howard-Gibbon said. Boy Scout troops in Sonoma County were formed around 1918, with the first council, the oversight body, formed the following year, he said. Pack 55 coalesced in 1960, Marigo said.

Girls have long come along to participate in Cub Scout events with their siblings, Howard-Gibbon said, but under the new rules, they’ll earn badges and formally participate in events.

Local parents requested more gender inclusion in the organization, and online national surveys showed 97 percent of parents involved in Scouting were interested in having their daughters take part in Cub Scouts, he said.

“One of the reasons we’re doing this is that it makes it easier for parents of both boys and girls to have kids in the same Scouting organization,” Howard-Gibbon said.

For Scott Wood, whose daughters, Charlotte, 8, and Evelyn, 9, both joined the pack, the day was a historic one.

Wood achieved the elite Eagle Scout status at 17, and his parents have long been involved in Scouting, he said. He has questions about how the integration will work, but he hopes his daughters will enjoy the adventurous program as much as he did.

“It’s really important for boys to have space to be boys,” he said. “But I want my girls to be able to benefit from an organization that’s well run, like the Boy Scouts, and that has a focus on teamwork and achievement.”

Robby Donohue, an 8-year-old Cub Scout, is also looking forward to the changes.

“I get to chase girls now,” the second-grader said with enthusiasm as he shimmied up a tree trunk.

The biggest challenge will be finding parents to lead the groups, Marigo said. He plans to begin recruiting new members today at Village and Spring Creek elementary schools.

“Dens,” or smaller groups within the pack, will be separated by gender, but will frequently converge for co-ed activities, Marigo said. Those interactions will teach participants key life lessons.

“In our society, with the #MeToo movement, it all starts now, with respect,” he said, referring to the national campaign against sex harassment and assault. “This is the perfect organization, with values about community and respect and good citizenship.”