CHARLOTTE, NC (Bruce Henderson/The Charlotte Observer) - The first girl to become a Cub Scout in Mecklenburg County already has her crisp blue uniform, ready to chase a family tradition that until now has allowed only boys.
Five members of Kennedy Clutter's extended family, including great-uncles and grandpas, have worked their way through merit badges, leadership roles and community service to the mountaintop of Scouting: Eagle.
So when mom Jennifer Clutter read last fall that the Boy Scouts of America would let girls join their ranks, the 8-year-old had a quick reaction. "She just looked at me and said, 'So I can earn my Eagle?' " recalled Clutter, who's a Cub Scout den leader.
The BSA announced last October, after what it said was years of requests from families, that younger girls would be allowed to join the Cub Scouts and older ones could earn the rank of Eagle Scout.
"We believe it is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children," the organization said in a statement.
The BSA's Mecklenburg County Council will serve as a pilot in integrating girls. Scout Executive/CEO Mark Turner said about 15 Cub Scout packs will serve as "early adopters" and reach out to girls as potential members this spring. This fall, all 110 packs in the county will be open to girls of ages 5 to 10.
Kennedy Clutter was first in line. She's looking forward to the Pinewood Derby of model cars, campouts and service projects, and can already recite the Scout Oath.
"I want to be a Cub Scout because I've watched my brother do all this fun stuff, and I really want to do all that fun stuff," she said. "They go camping, they learn how to use a knife – lots of things that you can't just learn at school."
At least 10 other girls expect to join her at the first girls' Cub Scout den under Pack 3, Myers Park United Methodist Church, on March 21.
Kennedy's brother Carson, 11, will transition from Cub Scouts to the Boy Scouts this week. "He's been really encouraging, making sure she has the right patches to sew on, and he brought down the handbooks from his previous years," said Jennifer Clutter, who serves on the county council's executive board.
Mecklenburg County girls are expected to form their own dens, or age-based groups, for weekly Cub Scout meetings and join the whole pack for monthly meetings, Turner said. Pack 3 will have separate campsites for boys and girls on its twice-a-year overnight outings, Clutter said.
Turner said he has no idea how many girls to expect as Cub Scouts this year, but he knows that many girls like Kennedy have brothers who are already Scouts. More than 3,000 boys are members. "We're just excited about what the potential is," he said.
"I've heard nothing but positives about out our Cub Scout program integrating girls into the program," Turner said. "A lot of that is about serving the entire family. That's a big driver for us."
Girl Scouts USA responded to the BSA announcement last fall with its own statement touting the benefits of single-gender activities. The Girl Scouts offer a Gold Award to its highest-achieving members.
"The need for female leadership has never been clearer or more urgent than it is today – and only Girl Scouts has the expertise to give girls and young women the tools they need for success," the organization said.
Jennifer Clutter said her daughter is ready to be a pioneer. Kennedy plays soccer, basketball, tennis and can almost beat her 11-year-old brother in a footrace.
"I tell people, we're not trying to turn your girls into boys, and we're not trying to take the Boy Scouts and dilute it, but to present these leadership opportunities for girls," Clutter said. "It's something for the rest of your life, really."
Kennedy says she considers the challenge an honor.