Guiding girls inspires this Pennsylvania Scouter

When Erin Blank’s brother, Patrick, was a Cub Scout, she would play Akela for him and pretend to check off requirements. She became Akela for real years later when her son Ethan’s Wolf den leader quit unexpectedly. (Her younger son, Adin, is also a Cub Scout.)

Blank served as den leader for two years and then became pack committee chair. Early on, she developed a detailed plan
to work herself out of a job — a goal she met this year — and to leave the pack better than she found it. More leaders got training, membership tripled and every volunteer had a backup in place.

At midnight on Feb. 1, Blank led 15 girls across a freezing covered bridge in Lancaster County, Pa. There, they became Troop 82, one of the first female Scouts BSA troops.

Tell us more about that special crossover ceremony.

The girls hiked along a trail where they accomplished the nine elements they needed for Scout rank. Those elements were administered by Eagle Scouts — brothers, fathers and other Scout leaders. So, when they crossed the bridge at the end, they not only received their troop flag but actually received their Scout rank. And we were able to keep the plan a secret from all 15 girls.

And you went camping that weekend?

Some of the kids went to school that Friday, even though we finished up around 1 o’clock in the morning. Then they spent that weekend at Hidden Valley Scout Reservation working on rank advancement. It was such a great bonding experience. Our SPL lost her voice and in a moment of frustration grabbed a tent stake and wrote in the snow, “I love my troop!” Then she put her arms out and threw her face into the sun. The girls just rushed to her and embraced her.

What great troop spirit!

Every meeting is, “You belong here.” Whether it’s Scout to Scout, parent to Scout, Scout to parent, Scout to leader, we’re a team and we love to see these girls shine.

It sounds like your girls are on fire for Scouting.

Every time we go to a meeting, there’s a palpable buzz. Everybody is trying to do something; everybody is either learning or teaching or cooperating.

How do you work with Troop 83, the nearby boys’ troop?

We’re in separate towns, so we don’t do troop meetings together, but we do some service projects and outings together. I’d say a quarter to a third of our schedules overlap. We usually send someone to their planning meetings, and we can call on them to help teach skills.

What’s different about working with girls?

I notice that our girls have a hard time with failure. One of the things that I like to say to the kids and the parents — especially the parents — is that the BSA is a laboratory for making mistakes. And I often have to say that to myself, too.

Why is that?

I feel very inadequate to lead my girls, because I’ve never had firsthand experience as a Scout. Wood Badge definitely helped me out, but now we’re starting to talk Eagle applications and it’s intimidating. I have to lean heavily on the experience of dads to understand how the patrol method works and what it really takes to get from Life to Eagle.

You’ve talked to your Scouts about the girls Robert Baden-Powell encountered in Scouting. Why?

I see a lot of the clumsy, enthusiastic development that was going on back then reflected in our girls. Being able to understand that even the founder had a sense of equality and inclusiveness gives them a little more confidence to go out and do what they do.

What do you say to people who aren’t sure girls have a place in the BSA?

I invite them to a meeting. Because once you come to one of these meetings, you’ll never look at the BSA the same way again.

Fact sheet: Erin Blank

Years as a Scout Volunteer: 8 years

Current City: Brownstown, Pa.

Current Positions: Webelos den leader and committee chair, Pack 82; Scoutmaster, Troop 82; associate Advisor, Crews 82 and 1861

Day Job: Owner, Keystone Mascots

Most Satisfying Moments in Scouting: Attending her oldest son’s crossover ceremony during Wood Badge. “I came rushing in the door and said, ‘Ethan, I’m a Scout now; I bridged over just like you.’ He got so excited and gave me a big hug.”

Favorite Camp and Why: Hidden Valley Scout Reservation, Loysville, Pa. “There’s a really fun diversity of activities, and the staff is unbelievably accommodating and enthusiastic.”

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