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A new troop in town

March 24, 2019 GMT

There’s a new troop in town — Scout BSA Troop 324, an all-girls troop. Girls around the country, and now in Bourbonnais, started forming Scout Troops as part of the Scouts BSA program, formerly known as the Boy Scouts.

The BSA’s goal is to train youth in responsible citizenship, character development and self-reliance through participation in a wide range of outdoor activities and educational programs. In Scouts BSA, young men and women go places, test themselves and have one-of-a-kind adventures that can’t be found anywhere else.

The new troop formed just a few weeks ago by Scoutmaster Sharon Simon with the help of her husband, Matthew, a former Troop 324 Scoutmaster. It was their daughter, Julia, who initiated the idea. Scouting is not a new concept to the Simons. Their sons, Alex and Andrew, rose through the Scout ranks, and both earned Eagle Scout.

The Simons’ oldest son, Roger, who has Asperger’s syndrome, was not directly involved in Scouts but enjoyed watching his brothers, and now sister, participate.

The Simons say the values of Scouting — citizenship, leadership, loyalty, trustworthiness, kindness and bravery — are important for both young boys and girls.

The girls troop formed in association with the existing boys troop, but it is not co-ed, Sharon Simon said. The troop, for those ages 11 to 18, is two separate groups, but they collaborate.

“We are teaching the next group of leaders,” Matthew Simon said.

“Scouting builds a strong foundation for other life skills,” Sharon Simon added.

The Scouts meet at 7 p.m. every Tuesday in the Bourbonnais Municipal Center community room.

The troops join together at the beginning of each meeting, the boys and girls in separate lines, with the presentation of the U.S. Flag and Troop Flag. The troop stood at attention, folded down their thumbs and pinkies and recited the Pledge of Allegiance with a three-finger salute.

Then, they held the same three fingers up, elbows bent at right angles and recited the Scout Oath and Law. It should be pointed out the Scout oath and Scout law are not gender specific but rather good for all kids.

During the meeting, a few of the boys in the troop gave instructions on what to pack for their next camping trip, such as clothing to prepare for the cooler weather, including hand warmers, sweatshirts, warm clothes to sleep in, extra shoes and rain gear; equipment, including a sleeping bag and pad, flashlight, a first aid kit, a folding chair, bungee straps and a small day backpack; and cooking equipment, including a stove, matches, mess kit and cleaning products.

The girls then walked to Safety Town to conduct their own meeting engaging in Scout skill challenges and team building opportunities, all while following the BSA Handbook.

On Tuesday, the girls practiced knot tying and learned about pocketknife safety. Scouts work toward earning Merit Badges in more than 100 areas, including archery, first aid, forestry, Scouting heritage, woodworking, art, camping, cooking, fire safety, gardening, hiking, metal work, movie-making, robotics, search and rescue, wilderness survival and even journalism.

Achieving each rank has different requirements, starting with memorizing the Scout oath and code and tying simple knots. Older Scouts build fires, learn navigation with a compass and complete service projects. Earning badges can take a week, a month or a year, depending on the skill learned.

Scouting helps youth gain valuable life skills and participate in new experiences they can’t get anywhere else, all while having fun and making friends. The girls in Troop 324 all have brothers who were or are Scouts. Julia Simon heard her brothers talk about their camping trips. Now, she will make those memories of her own.

“I saw my two older brothers go through Scouts and even earn Eagle Scout,” Julia Simon said. “It seemed so fun to go on camp outs and trips. I’m looking forward to camping and cooking outdoors.”

“I grew up doing outdoor things with my dad and five uncles. When my brother joined Scouts, I heard about how fun and challenging it was. I wanted to be a part of it,” Sydney Wilkey said.

Other girls joined because they saw a chance to learn leadership, outdoors skills and science.

“My brother was always in Scouts,” Kaeleigh Vana said. “I would see what they were doing and was interested. It’s fun learning new things.”

Alena Barton added, “When my brother got involved in Scouts, I heard about all the trips and camping. I wanted to be more adventurous.”

Abigail Spencer joined to “make new friends and stay active.” Emily Sztuba was also interested and joined to “try camping more.”

While Sharon Simon is the Scout leader, she said she “guide[s] them, not tell them what to do.”

The boys in Troop 324 have been receptive to the idea and are excited about the opportunity to include more members.

“Scouting offers an opportunity for young boys and girls to get outdoors, hike and camp. The older Scouts help the younger Scouts and teach them what to do,” said Robin Passwater, Troop 324 Scout leader.

Scout Troop 324 members camp one weekend per month and are responsible for setting up camp, organizing their belongings, building a fire and cooking meals and also learn first aid, navigation and survival skills, Passwater said.

In April, the boys and girls troops will travel to St. Louis for their monthly hike-in camping adventure. While there, they also will visit the St. Louis Arch and City Museum.

To further these outdoor activities, the BSA has high-adventure trips and this year the troop will travel to Isle Royale National Park in Michigan for a hiking and camping trip.

In addition, Troop 324 boys and girls will participate in the week-long summer camp at the Rainbow Scouts Reservation in Morris to meet other Scouts, camp and work toward earning Merit Badges.

The success of the Scout program is evident by the fact the Bourbonnais Troop has had eight Scouts earn the rank of Eagle Scout in the past year.

Being a Scout means more than just learning survival skills; it opens windows of opportunity that previously were closed to girls. Girls now can reach the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest rank in the program, making them eligible for additional college scholarships that once were reserved for boys.

“I foresee this Troop growing. A lot of girls are interested in the outdoors,” Sharon Simon said.

To join Troop 324 or to volunteer, email sharon-simon@sbcglobal.net.