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It was a reasonable ask. Amanda Dabrowski and Jessie Dertke just wanted to do more outdoor activities and go camping. So, they joined the Boy Scouts. Specifically, Arlington’s Troop 104, the oldest continuously operated troop in the Commonwealth and first established more than a century ago.
For nearly all of those years, though, girls weren’t allowed to join.
But all of that changed in 2019 when the Boy Scouts of America allowed girls ages 11 to 17 years old to enter their ranks for the first time. The organization was renamed Scouts BSA. Additionally, the new members were given the opportunity to rise to the rank of Eagle Scout.
The very first day, February 1, 2019, that girls were allowed to join the Boy Scouts, then-12-year-old Dabrowski did exactly that. And went camping, winter be damned.
“I was so excited. And there was a camp-up that day, so I went out and did it. It was six degrees and freezing cold. But I was really, really psyched,” Dabrowski tells ARLnow, now 15 and living in the Ashton Heights neighborhood.
Dabrowski, as well as Dertke have gone on to become Eagle Scouts, making them among the first girls in Arlington to not only be part of what was once called the Boy Scouts but achieve the organization’s highest rank.
“I’m super proud,” Dabrowski says. “It makes me really happy and [becoming an Eagle Scout] doesn’t feel quite real yet… I’m one of the first people within the movement to be part of this.”
Overall, the two Arlingtonians are part of as many as 140,000 girls nationwide who have joined Scouts BSA since early 2019.
Like some who make history, the locals’ initial intentions weren’t necessarily to be first. It was simply to have the same opportunities as their male counterparts. They just wanted to go camping, build fires, and learn how to use a hatchet.
Dabrowski explains that she used to tag along with her twin brother’s troop, doing all of the same activities and completing all the tasks, but wasn’t given the same opportunity for recognition.
“It was really hard to see my brother get the awards and, then, I had done the same things, but wasn’t able to be awarded it because of my gender,” she says.
For 18-year-old Dertke, who’s now a student at Virginia Tech, joining the Scouts was also a way to get outside and go camping. Though, she did have some trepidation about joining.
“I kinda didn’t really want to join at first because I was worried people would say, ‘What are you doing here? You are a girl?’,” she says. “It was actually a great atmosphere and everyone was very supportive. It was a very good decision [to join].”
For both of them, however, the goal wasn’t simply to join. It was also about achieving the rank of Eagle Scout, a distinction that people like Neil Armstrong, Bill Gates, and President Gerald Ford have all attained. Of course, no women were on that list — that is, until Dabrowski, Dertke, and others have now added themselves.
It has taken Dabrowski three years to work towards becoming an Eagle Scout. That includes hours of photography, camping, woodworking, and cooking to earn merit badges. She also had to complete a service project, which was to line a section of trail with timbers in the Mary Carlin Woods at Bluemont Park. Dertke completed a service project as well, building a path also in Bluemont Park.
“It helps bikes and wheelchairs get through an inaccessible area,” she says.
Both say these projects and being scouts have taught them how to lead, skills that are already translating to other aspects of their lives. Dabrowski says she’s now part of her school’s student government because of the leadership lessons.
Beyond camping and building trails, their greatest impact may be how they’ve encouraged others to break barriers and learn what they are capable of.
Troop 104, sponsored by Clarendon United Methodist Church on N. Irving Street, has more than 70 scouts. Twenty-nine are girls, including three more that will soon become Eagle Scouts.
“There’s a lot of people who are like, ‘I’m not going to build a fire,’ ” says Jessica Dabrowski, one of Troop 104’s scout masters — and Amanda’s mom. “And, then, ‘Oh my God, I built a fire!'”
When asked if this was something they were aspiring to — being a model for others like them — both said yes. But the outdoor activities and connection to nature remain perhaps their favorite part of becoming Eagle Scouts.
“Being in nature is exciting and peaceful,” says Dertke. “You really can’t get that feeling anywhere else.”
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Grab some friends and sign up for Parks & Rec’s Eugene J. Green Memorial Winter Basketball League! Adults 18+ can register teams of up to 12 people for the ten-game season. Cost is $765 per team. Games are Mondays and/or Wednesdays at Arlington Mill Community Center starting the week of Jan. 4. Sign up here by Dec. 11.
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