JEROME, Idaho (KLIX) – A pilot program was launched recently that allows girls to join certain Scouting units that traditionally were for boys.

Three units in the Snake River Council have made the change: one unit each in Eden, Jerome, and Twin Falls.

“This is really a soft approach to what we’re going to be starting on Sept. 1,” said Scout Executive Dave Kirk. “The organization is really focusing on how we can involve more of the family in the Scouting program. … All family members, male and female, will be able to participate in Scouting at a certain age.”

Kirk said the pilot program only affects Cub Scout age youth, but a later expansion could affect the Boy Scouts.

“We don’t know when that will happen. Maybe the beginning of 2019 or later,” he said. “But it looks like it’s going that way.”

But, he said, the changes will not be forced upon any troop. The decision to admit girls into the program is left up to the individual Scouting units. The LDS Church has opted not to participate, for instance, because it already has a program of its own for young women. Still, Kirk thinks the change is a positive one for Scouting and many of its families.

“I think it’ll go fine,” he said, explaining that girls will have the same requirements as boys. They’ll join the boys for pack meeting, but their leaders will always be adult females. “Scouting has always helped improve personal confidence, making strong individuals. That’s our whole purpose. We’re out to improve the youth, and not just the boys anymore. I think girls will have a blast.”

"There are not very many programs out there that help kids become leaders,” says Dave Kirk, executive director of the Snake River Council. “It really is a win-win for everybody."

A couple of local moms agree.

Jennifer Jacobo has two girls that now join their 10-year-old brother in Troop 139 in Jerome. She said her daughters are “really excited” about participating in the same troop as their older sibling.

“They’ve watched their brother for years,” she said. “They used to say: ‘We want to go with him. Why can’t we go?’ Now they can.”

Her son has accepted that decision well. In fact, Jacobo said, he is just as excited as they are, if not more so because he gets to teach them things that he’s already experienced.

“He’s really excited to show them what he’s learned,” she said, noting that he helps his sisters tie knots and stresses the importance of the Scout oath. She said the girls once tried Girl Scouts, but they enjoy Cub Scouts more because they are more involved, there’s more for them to do.

“All three of them can now sit down and work on something together as a unit,” Jacobo said. She also said the family activity has helped lessen conflicts at home.  “Now they all want to live the Cub Scout oath and law, and part of that is being kind to one another.”

Jayla Preciado, another mom who has two children in the same troop, said so far the experience has been positive for both her son, 12, and 10-year-old daughter. The girl has special needs, and all of the boys in the troop have been excited, welcoming and helpful, often asking if she needs help with anything. This has helped her daughter feel like part of a team and has given her courage to try new things and not give up.

“She loves it, she loves the interaction,” Preciado said. “I wish I could have done all of this when I was a little girl. I think it’s going to help her have more confidence.”

Some people haven’t liked the changes because they think the Scouts’ mission will change, “but it won’t do that at all,” Kirk said. “We have three strong, interested units in the pilot program. It’s under some good, watchful eyes and they’re going to ask questions and see what tweaks have to be made before the larger program starts in September.”

Kirk said if a parent has daughters in a unit that doesn’t allow girls they can go to one that does, and that the organization will never force a unit to accept girls if it doesn’t want to. But he thinks as the program continues, and more units accept the changes, it will be a boon to more youth and their families.

“There are not very many programs out there that help kids become leaders,” he said. “It really is a win-win for everybody.”