Morgan Phillips was a shy 14-year-old when she attended her first Venturing meeting. She left that meeting unconvinced that Scouting was for her.
But her dad encouraged her to keep at it, providing that gentle nudge all teenagers eventually need.
Morgan’s glad he did, because she says Scouting helped her build confidence to try things beyond her comfort zone. In the five years since, she has performed songs and silly skits at crowded campfires, given speeches to large groups of adults, and taught classes to other Scouts and Venturers.
“None of these are things I thought I would be doing if you told me what my future held at age 14,” Morgan says. “Scouting has taught me that I can be myself, and it’s shown me that you don’t have to be shy.”
Last year, a khaki Scouts BSA uniform joined the green Venturing one in Morgan’s closet.
And now she’s one of four young women from Troop 2019 of the Middle Tennessee Council who have completed all the requirements to earn the highest honor in Scouts BSA. These remarkable young women will join the Inaugural Class of Female Eagle Scouts on Feb. 8, 2021.
Taylor Bell, Mackenzie Neal, Lindsay Parker and Morgan Phillips earned merit badges, served in leadership positions and completed major service projects for their community.
But like other Eagle Scouts before them, they didn’t just check off requirements on the trail to Eagle. They worked hard, enjoyed outstanding adventures and learned something about themselves.
“Their steady, persistent progress through the ranks to achieve this prestigious award demonstrates their determination to prepare themselves for a meaningful, productive role in society,” says Mindi Bell, Troop 2019 advancement chair. “Their exemplary performance in Scouting will serve as a beacon to those Scouts who follow them.”
A place of ‘acceptance and fun’
As she went backpacking on the Appalachian Trail with her troop, attended the 2019 World Scout Jamboree or sailed the Florida Keys at Sea Base, Morgan began to notice something about Scouting.
She says the Scouting movement, perhaps more than any other youth program around, is a place of “acceptance and fun, no matter your ethnicity, beliefs, race and gender.”
But even though there’s a place for everyone in Scouting, it’s also a place where it’s OK to be different.
“Scouting has taught me that sometimes, it’s more important to stand out than to fit in with the crowd,” she says.
Morgan stood out while working several summers at Boxwell Scout Reservation. In her job at the waterfront, she didn’t just keep younger Scouts safe; she taught them an essential life skill.
“Something I love about Scouting is the aspect of passing down knowledge and giving back to the youth,” she says. “Not only can adults pass on their knowledge, but it’s the duty of Scouts to pass on their knowledge as well.”
‘Just the beginning’ of something amazing
Lindsay Parker spent her very first campout as a member of Troop 2019 at Latimer Reservation, located in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee.
Even though it was her first campout as a Scout, and even though “to this day, it is still the coldest campout I’ve ever been on,” Lindsay ranks this trip as her all-time favorite.
Isn’t it funny how it’s often the most extreme Scouting adventures that we remember most fondly?
Lindsay didn’t know many of the girls in her troop when she showed up for that weekend campout. But as the weekend progressed, she experienced the way Scouting can bring people together through shared experiences.
“Everyone got up super early on Sunday, and we hiked up to watch the sunrise over the mountains,” Lindsay says. “I didn’t know it then, but that was just the beginning of all of the amazing things we would do and learn together as a troop.”
That’s just what Lindsay was hoping for when she became a founding member of Troop 2019 in 2019.
“I was excited to be able to do the same activities and earn the same merit badges that I had seen and heard about,” she says. “I also was excited to be a part of a group of girls my age with similar values that were all working toward the same goals.”
‘Cheerful during the hardest task’
At 15, Taylor Bell is the youngest of the four soon-to-be Eagle Scouts in her troop. She’s making the most of the extra time she’ll have in Scouting to complete another goal.
She’s trying to earn a merit badge in every state. (Surprisingly, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard of an ambitious Scout trying to do this.)
Taylor is on No. 41 of 50 and says this latest merit badge was especially meaningful. She earned the Disabilities Awareness merit badge in Watertown, S.D. It was there she met Wyatt, an Eagle Scout who has Juvenile Huntington disease, a rare illness with no known cure.
“He was so nice and let me see his home and how it has been adapted to make him as functional and independent as possible,” she says. “It really made me see how someone with a disability lives and how much he overcomes every day with a smile on his face.”
Experiences like these have opened Taylor’s mind to the wider world. That’s exactly why she joined Troop 2019. She watched her older brother, Thomas, become an Eagle Scout and figured she should get a turn.
“I wanted to do more of the outdoor experiences and participate in the high-adventure programs and leadership training offered by the BSA,” she says. “And to give back.”
For her Eagle Scout project, Taylor worked with the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office K-9 unit. She built an obstacle course with nine different agility challenges for dogs — each meant to simulate the scenarios these professional pups might face in the field.
As for her own obstacles, Taylor says Scouting has improved her communication skills and grit.
“I have learned how to be cheerful during the hardest task,” she says, “and that even when I don’t think I can do a task, with a little guidance and encouragement, I can.”
‘I’ve become more of a leader’
How can a young person know whether they’d enjoy an outdoor activity like camping, backpacking or canoeing until they try it themselves?
Scouting opens that door, introducing young people like Mackenzie Neal to the great outdoors.
Kenzie wasn’t sure Scouting was for her when Troop 2019 formed — even though her sisters were joining the troop and her dad is an Eagle Scout.
“I decided to join because my friends and family were going to,” she says. “I didn’t plan on advancing fast, let alone earning the rank of Eagle. Now, I do it solely because I love it. It’s a part of me.”
Whether serving as a counselor at Scout summer camp or backpacking on the Appalachian Trail, Kenzie says each experience has changed her in different ways.
“I feel like I’ve matured,” she says. “I’ve become more of a leader by stepping up in my home unit, being a mentor for others girls when needed. I’ve expanded outside of my comfort zone by trying so many new things, including activities and leadership roles. I’ve found real friends and the activities I like to do.”
These are friendships that don’t end after the last game of the season. They build and grow over time as these Scouts become closer by escaping the stresses of life for a weekend.
“It’s so nice to get away from everything,” Kenzie says, “but still be around each other.”
What does being in the Inaugural Class of Female Eagle Scouts mean to you?
- Morgan: “It’s honestly like going down in the history books and is something that I’ll cherish forever. I am so proud to be recognized among other female Eagle Scouts who have worked just as hard as I have to get to this point.”
- Lindsay: “It means that any person can become an Eagle Scout if they are willing to work hard and take the values of the Scouting program to heart.”
- Taylor: “We have the chance to encourage, inspire and motivate others — especially young women. It’s also a way to say thank you to those young women in the Venturing program who showed it was possible to have young women in the BSA.”
- Kenzie: “I’m hoping that I will be a good influence for any girls who look up to me in the future.”
Why does America need Scouting?
- Morgan: “So many people could benefit from the leadership skills, communication skills, problem-solving skills and outdoor skills that come with it. It ensures that there’s at least a small population of people in the world who can ultimately help save lives and lead others to success.”
- Lindsay: “Even if a youth doesn’t stay in the program for a long time, or they don’t reach Eagle, it can still have a lasting impact by helping them develop self-confidence, ethics, and leadership skills that will go with them throughout their whole lives.”
- Taylor: “We need to know how to manage our money, cook meals, have basic first aid knowledge, and understand government. These are things you do in the Scouting program as you advance to First Class. If we, as Americans, could use the Scout Law to help guide our communication with others — especially when our opinions differ — I think we would have less disagreements and more teamwork.”
- Kenzie: “America needs a reminder to be good people. Although being a good person should be second nature, these days it’s a lost practice. Scouts bring back some hope into the world.”