'You feel like you're part of something': Girls integral part of Darien scouts

DARIEN — It’s been five years since the Boy Scouts of America first opened its doors to female scouts, and since that time Troop 219 has grown to become a strong and integral part of Darien’s scouting community.

For girls who want something more—particularly camping, survival and outdoor skills—the BSA program is an enriching alternative to other programs, members and leaders said. And for those who may not find the traditional options of school athletics and high academic achievement their milieu, Troop 219 offers a different place to succeed and belong.

“You feel like you’re part of something, which is always cool,” explained Natalie Smith, 12.

“And there are a lot of good people here,” she said. “Everyone’s nice and no one is ever judgmental.”

Troop 219, which began as a much smaller satellite group to boy’s Troop 53, now has 19 dedicated members, with more to come through the cub ranks and one — Lindsay Ferretti — soon to be the first to achieve the highest BSA rank of Eagle Scout.

“Most of them joined in like fifth, sixth, and seventh grade, so it’s been great to see them grow and challenge themselves,” said Susie Flaherty, Troop 219’s troop leader, whose own boys also take part in scouting.

“The strength of a scout troop is its diversity,” she said. “Scouting is a place where all sorts of kids can come together and discover the value and purpose of both individual and group achievement.”

The troop got together last week at the Andrew Shaw Memorial for its regular meeting. Along with learning some skills related to rope and knot tying, scouts learned different methods of carrying and transporting people who are hurt.

“I like learning things that I can actually use in life, and still having fun while doing it,” said Elise Shulman, 13.

“A lot about the scout program is about training,” noted Grant Evans, scoutmaster for Troop 53 and committee member for 219.

More importantly, the ultimate purpose of the program is to have the older and more experienced scouts doing the training of the younger ones—something that Troop 219 is seeing more of as longevity extends.

“It’s nice that the girls who started out are still here,” said Mattie Dickinson, 15, a pioneer in the troop.

Like others, she said she favors the BSA program because it offers more outdoor and camping experience, with the troop generally taking part in an overnight trip each month.

Also, her mother explained, as Mattie doesn’t attend the Darien Public Schools, scouting offers her a chance to make friends with girls from town she might not otherwise get to meet.

Further, Alison Dickinson said, some of the more common programs and activities throughout the town aren’t suited to everybody.

“It gives kids an opportunity who don’t already have a niche,” she said. “In a town like Darien it’s nice to have something else.”

“I love scouting,” said Mariam El-Abid, 16, who added that she appreciates a much lower sense of social stress and a friendlier, more-inclusive environment.

“It’s very welcoming,” she said. “Everyone there is super-friendly.”

Flaherty said that along with having a blast in the great outdoors, these BSA girl pioneers are demonstrating the power of working together.

“This creates true empathy through experience that is desperately needed in our world,” she said.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the name of Mariam El-Abid.