American Heritage Girls Fills Scouting Void

The founder of a Christian girls scouting organization talks about the early years and what the Boy Scouts of America decision means for the group

FAIRFAX, Va. – When the Boy Scouts of America voted last month to allow gay scouts to serve openly in their organization, Patti Garibay, founder and executive director of the American Heritage Girls, knew what she had to do: sever ties with BSA. Since 2009, the Cincinnati-based AHG had been the official sister organization of the Boy Scouts, but the decision to change its membership policy meant the Christian scouting organization had to officially dissolve its association.

The move was especially sad for Garibay, who left the Girl Scouts as a result of their decision to make "God" an option in the organization's promise. On a recent visit to the Washington, D.C., area, Garibay spoke to The Christian Post about the past and future of the fastest-growing scouting organization in the United States.

CP: Why did you start AHG?

Garibay: In 1993, when the Girl Scouts first talked about altering one of their foundational principles, we tried to make changes to the Girl Scouts from within to no avail. After two years of trying, it was very obvious that there was a need for something different for our daughters – and we truly thought it would just be for our daughters. But God had a much different plan, and soon we were getting calls from as far away as California that first year hearing that we were doing something different for our daughters. In 1996, we first started to go outside of the Ohio area. In 1995, our first year, we had 100 girls in 10 troops. Today, we're nearing 30,000 in 650 troops. Last year, AHG grew by 48 percent.

CP: How is AHG different from other girl scouting groups?

Garibay: Rather than just being a badge-earning group, we're a life skills building program. We incorporate not just the faith side, but the service side – more than 750,000 million service hours were given to local communities last year – and we have a strong outdoor program. We're designed to meet the needs of the whole girl. But what really differentiates AHG from the scouting world is that we have multi-level girl programming, which allows girls ages 5 to 18 to be in the same troop. That makes it very family-friendly.

CP: How are you keeping AHG from falling into some of the pitfalls that other scouting groups have encountered?

Garibay: Mission creep is a problem almost with any national organization, and we've seen every youth organization of a national stature go down this path, the final one being the Boy Scouts. We keep true to our mission and founding by keeping it Christ-centered, by ensuring our charter partners agree to our statement of faith, and by having those same stakeholders as voting members of our board of directors. We have to have 80 percent approval of our charter reps to change anything in our bylaws or membership requirements.

CP: Why did AHG have a relationship with the Boy Scouts of America?

Garibay: Several years ago, the Boy Scouts came to us because they had been looking for many years for a girl bookend program, and they felt that American Heritage Girls was more aligned than the other girl programs that were out there. We agreed to be their partner in 2009, when their membership standards were more in line with American Heritage Girls. AHG has always been autonomous, as has the Boy Scouts. There was never anything in our agreement that would not allow us to remain true to our scriptural foundation. When the Boy Scouts made this membership standards change, our board of trustees unanimously said that because that change did not maintain our scriptural foundation, we must dissolve our relationship. That is not to say we will never do anything with the individual Boy Scout troops – we certainly probably will. However, as a national organization, that relationship is gone, and we are saddened by it.

CP: What has been the reaction of the Boy Scouts?

Garibay: All through their listening phase, I did let them know what would happen if they made this change. Doing the right thing – and we think dissolving our association is the right thing – is not always the easy thing to do. We know this comes at great cost but so does standing up for the Gospel.

CP: What kind of cost do you think AHG will face?

Garibay: There will be some inconvenience, given that many of our troops used Boy Scout camps and training. Prior to 2009, girls camped just as much as they do today. They just used different resources, such as Christian camps, state parks and national parks, as well as other locally, privately held campgrounds. AHG is working on developing our own training for leaders.

CP: Will AHG start a boy version?

Garibay: From the very beginning, since 1995, parents have come to American Heritage Girls and asked about a boys program. That's why when the Boy Scouts came to us, we were excited to be able to say that this is our boys program. Now, thousands of families have emailed us asking what we were going to do for the boys. Since our mission is girls, we have offered to come alongside groups like Faith-Based Boys to help in any way for them to make a program for boys that can align with AHG so that we can have families do this together.

CP: What is AHG's stance on gay girls/gay leaders?

Garibay: All adults and charter partners must adhere to our statement of faith. For girls, AHG has an inclusion policy which says we accept any girl who agrees to live by the AHG Oath and AHG Creed. One of our areas in the creed is purity, and we talk about what that means. We have our Living a Life of Virtue process that addresses any chronic sin, whether it's stealing, lying or sexual in nature. We need to reach out to troubled kids but we can't let them think sin is okay. We're there to come alongside parents and churches, but not be the church or parent.

CP: What does the future hold for AHG?

Garibay: I find it very promising as long as God is in it and being glorified. To that end, when that happens, we can't even imagine what can be done. This is all in God's hands.

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