When she was just 3 years old, Ani Hovanesian went to her brother’s Cub Scout meetings — convinced she was a Scout, too.
She said the Oath, learned the skills, played the games. She just never wore the uniform.
More than a decade later, a child’s dream has become a teenager’s reality. Ani, a Life Scout in Troop 35 of the Orange County Council, is hoping to join the Inaugural Class of Female Eagle Scouts next year.
To become an Eagle Scout, a young person must complete a series of increasingly difficult requirements. It’s like climbing a mountain — each step is a little tougher, but the view gets better the higher you go.
Ani’s climb has been just as challenging as the ascent taken by any Eagle Scout, but she’s had the benefit of living with two people who have been to that summit already.
Her dad, John, is a Distinguished Eagle Scout. (We covered him on this blog in 2018.) And her older brother, Joseph, is an Eagle Scout, too.
“I was ecstatic when I found out that girls could join Scouts BSA,” Ani says. “I have finally fulfilled that dream.”
But it hasn’t been easy. Like any Scouts BSA member, Ani has been challenged to be resilient, creative and brave.
She earned the Swimming merit badge in the cold waters near Catalina Island. She overcame the difficulties of teaching her peers. She planned, developed and led an Eagle project during a pandemic.
“I’ve learned that leadership is not something that many people get immediately but a skill that takes time to refine,” Ani says. “You need to work with people who can help you down that learning path. My troop works with me in that way. They set a bar, and I do my best to exceed it.”
The same, only different
Ani joined Scouts BSA 41 years after her father first buttoned up his uniform.
“But in so many ways she’s had exactly the same experience,” John says. “She felt the same thrill I did when she first tied a bowline. She swelled with the same pride when her patrol, the Dragons, first picked its name. And she’ll feel that same enormous sense of accomplishment when the Eagle badge is finally pinned on her uniform.”
There have been differences, too. While some boys are naturally competitive at 14, Ani’s fellow girls are naturally cooperative.
“The girls really encourage each other,” John says. “They’re great communicators, and they take their leadership positions much more seriously than we boys ever did. In other words, these girls are natural leaders.”
John’s observations illustrate the brilliance of the BSA’s approach to welcoming girls into Scouts BSA. As members of separate Scouts BSA troops, boys and girls can thrive among their peers, each finding an environment that suits their needs.
Call it Family Scouting
On a sports team, one parent might be the coach, but everyone else in the family must find a literal place on the sidelines.
Not in Scouting. There’s a place for the entire family, and the skills and adventures of Scouting are even more fun when everyone is involved.
Few families embody “Family Scouting” more than the Hovanesians. John and Tanya’s three children are involved in many non-Scouting activities, but “Scouting is our favorite because it involves all of us,” John says.
That’s not to say that all five do the exact same thing in their troops. But everyone gets to enjoy their own special piece of the fun.
During summer camp, Joseph, 17, might be off on a kayak trek, while Ani, 14, works on merit badges and Danny, 11, participates in the Trail to First Class program.
When they return from separate or joint adventures, they animatedly swap stories before starting three loads of laundry: lights, darks and khakis.
This hasn’t stopped during the pandemic. At the Hovanesian household, nearly every night is still Scout night.
”On Mondays it might be a troop committee meeting by Zoom. Tuesday could be a den meeting for Danny’s new Scout patrol. Thursdays are troop meetings, and the weekend might involve a troop service project or helping with a friend’s Eagle project,” John says. “We’re excited that campouts are starting up again, so the family gets to spend even more time outdoors.”
One of the best things about Scouting is that there’s an outlet for every kind of passion: art or archery, chemistry or cooking, soccer or space.
Ani’s life revolves around her dream of one day working at NASA in mission control. It’s been her goal ever since she visited the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a family vacation. She’s even a fellow Space Camp alum.
But she knows that not every family can send its children to Alabama for a week of Space Camp. So for her Eagle Scout service project, Ani worked with the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach to pioneer a space camp program for its members.
“Ani’s space camp was timely and a perfect gift to our club members at the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach,” Pam Estes, CEO of Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach, told the Laguna Beach Independent. “Creating excitement about science and engineering among our kiddos, equipping them with problem-solving skills, and modeling volunteerism are important priorities.”
Ani first worked with the members of her troop to go over lesson plans and assemble materials. They even held a practice camp with some local Cub Scouts — just to make sure the activities were fun, engaging and practical.
They built air-powered rockets, designed zero-gravity astronaut living quarters and made faux heat shields.
The actual camp was held in early August. Because of local COVID-19 restrictions, attendance was limited, face coverings were required and strict social distancing was maintained. Like any Eagle project, Ani’s effort faced some unexpected challenges.
“With my helpers, I had to figure out ways to make supplies for individuals with no cross-contamination,” she says. “When they needed help, I couldn’t touch their projects, because I had to stay 6 feet away. But it was amazing, and all the work I put in completely paid off.”
‘Scouting has made our family even closer’
The Hovanesians were a close family even before Ani became an official BSA member. But Scouting brought a little something extra.
”Scouting has made our family even closer,” John says. “Teenagers want respect from their parents more than anything else. Scouting constantly gives them a chance to show how responsible they are — or aren’t. When they succeed, they deserve and they get recognition. And when they don’t, they recognize it without being told. There’s no better way to raise our kids.”
And, as John and Tanya have discovered over the past 20 months, there’s no better way to raise a daughter, either.
“I was absolutely thrilled to learn that my daughter, and every young woman, could have the same Scouting experience that made me successful,” John says. “That she could learn the perseverance it takes to finish a backpack trip in the rain, the skills she’d need to save a life in a roadside emergency and the cheerfulness to laugh at herself when she burned everything in her Dutch oven. Those are life skills that I know she can apply to anything she does in her life. Girls deserve to have them just as much as boys.”