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Photo contributed by Rowan Kologek/ For her Eagle Scout service project, Rowan Kologek built an insect hotel with a host garden and created an education brochure to share about the different types of benefical insects it's designed to attract. Each cubby features coordinating flowers and plants to help create a good ecosystem for its inhabitants.

For years, 16-year-old Anika Pierce considered herself an unofficial Boy Scout.

Since age 6, the Cleveland, Tennessee, resident, tagged along with her brother and his Cub Scout troop to events and activities. In 2019, she was finally able to become a Cub Scout herself. And now, she is one of four Chattanooga-area girls to have achieved the venerable rank of Eagle Scout.

"It's one of those things where, when I was younger I had no idea I would ever be able to do this," Pierce said. "Now to be a part of this first class and pave the way and open people's eyes to what we as girls can do, is definitely a big honor."

The Boy Scouts of America decided four years ago to allow girls into its iconic Cub Scout program and start a scouting program for older girls to enable them to earn the highest rank of Eagle Scout. The decision came after years of requests from families and girls, according to the Boy Scouts of America.

The Cherokee Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America this month recognized its first class of female Eagle Scouts.

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Photo contributed by Bianca Pierce Photography/ Anika Pierce designed and built a playhouse for the Isaiah 117 House for her Eagle Scout service project. The local organization serves as an in-between home and safe haven for children awaiting foster care.

Pierce, of unit 1010, and Bethany Ostheim of unit 1444, are from Cleveland; Laughton "Lottie" Miller of unit 1020 and Rowan Kologek of unit 1116 are from Signal Mountain. They are being referred to as "pioneers" in the local scouting community for hitting the mark and paving the way for other young women.

"The local scouting community is so excited for these outstanding young women," said Jared Pickens, Scout Executive/CEO of the Cherokee Area Council, which offers scouting programs in 11 counties in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. "For years we have heard from girls their strong desire to be a part of the Boy Scouts of America and to be able to earn the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout. To see this fantastic group earn this award for the first time locally is really incredible."

Earning the rank of Eagle Scout is no small feat and is rare.

Scouts must earn 21 of the 128 merit badges available under the program, some of which are first aid, citizenship in the community, citizenship in the nation, citizenship in the world, communication, environmental science, personal fitness, personal management, camping and family life. They also must complete many service hours and a service-oriented project that benefits a school, community or religious institution outside the Boy Scouts of America program.

In 2020, out of more than 400,000 scouts, just 47,573 young men earned the Eagle Scout rank in the country, and only 1,000 young women, according to the organization's Report to the Nation.

The four local scouts had a little more than a year to meet the qualifications as older girls were only able to start onto the Eagle Scout path of the Boy Scouts of America in 2019.

MEET THE EAGLE SCOUTS

— Bethany Ostheim is a student at Walker Valley High School. Her parents are Chris and Valerie Ostheim.

— Anika Pierce is a student at Cleveland High School. Her parents are Bianca and Niles Pierce.

— Laughton Miller is a student at Signal Mountain Middle High School. Her parents are Coy and Rebecca Miller.

— Rowan Kologek is a homeschool student from the Signal Mountain area. Her parents are Ian and Sarah Kologek.

Boy Scouts of America decided in 2017 to include girls to "offer families an important additional choice in meeting the character development needs of all their children."

"The values of scouting — trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example — are important for both young men and women," said Michael Surbaugh, the BSA's chief scout executive in a statement released by Boy Scouts of America. "We believe it is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children. We strive to bring what our organization does best — developing character and leadership for young people — to as many families and youth as possible as we help shape the next generation of leaders."

The Cherokee Council has just more than 200 girls who became active in scouting in 2021.

The girls who recently attained the Eagle Scout rank either had interests in the different activities that Boy Scouts of America offers — camping, fishing or survival skills, for example — or they had brothers and fathers who had been involved in the program and saw how much it meant to them.

Miller had been a part of Girl Scouts since her youth, and even attained its highest honor, the Gold Award. However, she always wanted to be a part of the Boy Scouts of America program, as she was drawn to scouting after hearing the many stories of her father, who also earned the rank of Eagle Scout.

"I started [Boy Scouts of America] when I was in tenth grade with the goal that I wanted to get Eagle Scout before I graduated," she said. "I had to map a plan from the very beginning making sure I hit milestones and earned badges at every event I did."

Miller, 17, advises other young women who have that goal to start the program as early as possible so they can gain the most enjoyment out of their time scouting.

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Photo contributed by Rebecca Miller/ Laughton Miller of Unit 1020 designed mason bee boxes around her community on Signal Mountain, including on site at Signal Crest United Methodist preschool, where she installed slides that can be raised for children to observe the bees. She also included a QR code so people can read and learn more about what they do to help with pollination.

"I'm so thankful that younger girls in my troop will be able to have more fun with scouting because every event is so fun. But also there's also goals to keep like having to get your next merit badge," she explained. "Starting early will allow them more time to take in the whole experience."

After completing her project of building an insect hotel with a host garden and educational brochure for a local outdoor kindergarten program, Kologek, 18, said she felt fulfilled being able to share her passions of art and science and do something positive and lasting for her community.

"It's a huge accomplishment being named Eagle Scout," she said. "It's very cool because it doesn't go away; it's not something in past tense, it's a part of you always, and an everyday reminder of all the things we went through and places we got to go and see or help."

Rebecca Styles, vice president of communications of the Cherokee Area Council Board, said the caliber of young women who make up the first female class of Eagle Scouts in the local council prove what they already knew to be true: females make great leaders, too.

"I am astounded at the level of generosity, service leadership, persistence and kindness shown by these young ladies," Styles said."It gives me great optimism for their future, as well as for the future of the scouting program."

Ostheim, 18, encourages other young women with the goal of earning the honor to do all they can and enjoy every moment of the experience.

"It might be tough sometimes, but you've just got to stick to it and work through the challenges," she said. "I'm so happy to have earned this honor and finish alongside one of my brothers and make my dad proud."

Membership in the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts has slipped during the coronavirus pandemic.

The groups estimated they had lost 1.7 million members between them since 2019, with the Boy Scouts of America enrollment dropping by about 62% and the number of youth members of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. falling by nearly 30%, The New York Times reported.

However, locally numbers are rising. Pickens said recruitment for the Cherokee Area Council was up 75% in the fall of 2021 compared to 2020.

Contact Brandi Dixon at bdixon@timesfreepress.com.

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Photo contributed by Christopher Ostheim/ Bethany Ostheim's Eagle Scout project focused on reparing an access bridge at Red Clay State Park. Ostheim and helpers from her unit unburied the original pipe and replaced it casting molds and refilling the surrounding soil.
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