Boys and girls groups are Christian-based alternative to scout groups

by Paul Braun | New Earth

Trail Life boys test their agility at a recent troop meeting in West Fargo. (Paul Braun | New Earth)

For decades, churches in our diocese and Knights of Columbus councils have sponsored programs for youth. One of the most visible have been Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. While many of our parishes still sponsor these organizations, some are opting for an alternative to the scouting groups.

Mike Richards, parishioner at Holy Cross Church in West Fargo, was looking for an alternative to Boy Scouts. He served as a den leader when his son was in Cub Scouts but was concerned about the secular direction the national Scouts USA organization was taking.

“The changes in scouting over the past few years got me searching elsewhere, and we found this amazing opportunity,” said Richards.

The alternative Richards found was Trail Life USA, founded in 2013 by former Boy Scouts and Boy Scout leaders. Trail Life USA has six Program Emphases: Wisdom, Heritage, Teamwork, Leadership, Character, and Faith. The program components support youth development, understanding, and practical experiences in these key areas. Although Trail Life USA is specifically Christian (it requires leaders to adhere to the belief of a Triune God), it is interdenominational, with Charter Organizations representing Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox faith traditions. Moreover, it has a strong focus on outdoor skills and camping.

“We’re teaching these boys to be future Christian fathers, husbands, and men, and we’re teaching them to practice chastity throughout their life,” said Steve Spickenreuther, District Chair Representative for Trail Life USA. “We don’t shy away from those discussions.”

As far as the scouting goes, that part is very much the same as Scouts USA. Spickenreuther says those activities provide skill and confidence building, team building, and a connection to the outside world and with one another, much the same as Scouts USA. He also praises Scouts USA for their individual programs that allow boys to explore their own faith if they wish. However, he says Trail Life takes exploring the Christian faith even further.

“What we want to do is bring a spiritual aspect to every activity we do within the scouting portion of our program,” said Spickenreuther. “We then relate it back to what was God’s plan to provide that particular activity or teaching.”

American Heritage Girls wait to start their patriotic procession during Veterans Day ceremonies at Holy Cross Church in West Fargo. (Paul Braun | New Earth)

Both Richards and Spickenreuther had nothing but kind words for Scouts USA, and the traditions the organization has established in this country to help shape the lives of boys and young men. However, both feel Trail Life USA is the right organization at the right time to stand up to secularism, especially when it comes to the spiritual development of boys today.

“Our national leadership conferences emphasize honoring the legacy of Scouts USA,” said Richards. “But Trail Life is about raising the standard for the future. We take what was there and build up, but in a solely Christian way. It’s not a question of why not Scouts USA, but why not have this, too? It’s a better alternative for our family. We are part of the JPII Schools and our faith is important to us, so why not use this as another opportunity to have a specifically Christian program?”

It’s not just parents of boys seeking an alternative. Girls have their own alternative to Girl Scouts and other youth organizations through Trail Life’s sister organization, American Heritage Girls (AHG). A Girl Scout leader and her like-minded friends in Ohio started AHG in 1995 after the Girl Scouts put an asterisk next to the word “God” in their pledge. They also admired the outdoor activities that the Boy Scouts had in their program, so they originally partnered with the Boy Scouts in 2010, but later ended that partnership when Boy Scouts started changing its membership standards. AGH helped parents of boys start Trail Life USA, and has partnered with that organization ever since. Along with Trail Life USA, Holy Cross Church also sponsors AHG Troop ND 2711.

“I think the big appeal for the girls and their parents is a chance to be with friends who are like-minded and want to do some of the same things,” said Tara Newman of Troop ND2711. “It gives them something fun to do with their friends and gives them an opportunity to meet new friends.

American Heritage Girls has over 1,000 troops nationwide, with three troops located in North Dakota. AHG also has a statement of faith that professes a belief in the Triune God, that each individual is called to love God with heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love their neighbor as themselves. God calls members to live lives of purity, service, stewardship and integrity. Newman also has high praise for other scouting organizations. However, she feels that parents of AHG girls wanted to be able to trust that there’s nothing in the AHG handbooks or curriculum that would go against their values and their faith.

“You have to stick up for what you believe,” said Newman. “Girls deserve better than what is going on in this world, and I feel you can help them out by teaching them respect and right from wrong. Kids are going to be kids, but you have to teach them what’s expected of them by their parents, God, and what they should expect of themselves.”