Local faith-based scout troops offer alternative for girls

ATTLEBORO -- "Life is awesome and precious," said 10-year-old Caitlin Brawley of Rehoboth. "Life is a gift, and too many people are forgetting that."

That concept became a reality when her American Heritage Girls (AHG) troop earned the Respect Life Patch by serving at the Abundant Hope Pregnancy Resource Center in Attleboro.

On April 22, six of the troop's nine members spent time sorting baby clothes and touring the center. The troop, chartered by Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Seekonk, was founded just over a year ago. A second troop, chartered by Our Lady of Mt. Carmel-St. Anne Parish in Worcester, was also founded last year. Currently, they are the only troops in the Commonwealth.

American Heritage Girls, an international faith-based scouting organization, added the Respect Life Patch last month. AHG, founded in Ohio in 1995, currently has more than 30,000 scouts in 48 states.

According to a press release, the new patch "reinforces the organization's commitment to honoring life from conception to natural death." The group incorporated the patch after a Michigan troop designed and earned a pro-life patch for participating in events like the 40 Days for Life campaign.

The Worcester troop hopes to attain the Respect Life Patch next year by participating in a 40 Days campaign too. Troop leader Alessandra Soares called the patch "very important."

"The beauty of AHG is that we can stand for our Christian beliefs and teach our girls to do the same. Few things are more important than our belief in protecting life!" she said.

This year, the girls showed their support for life at a roller skating fundraiser for the crisis pregnancy center Birthright of Marlborough.

The Seekonk troop has previously participated in pro-life service, and many of the girls have supported the pro-life cause with their families as well. Both the Worcester and Seekonk troops are chartered by Catholic parishes, and many of the scouts, like Caitlin and Emily Day from the Seekonk troop, are Catholic.

Emily, 8, of Rehoboth, said she and her family regularly pray the rosary for life.

"God makes life, and we shouldn't have the right to take it away," Emily said.

The national administration of AHG supports that sentiment.

The largest scouting group for girls in the nation, Girl Scouts of the USA, takes "no position" on abortion. This year, some pro-life groups boycotted Girl Scout cookies, citing the organization's support of Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortions in the country. Girl Scouts of the USA claims "no official relationship" with Planned Parenthood. Individual troops are allowed to partner with the abortion giant.

On April 2, a committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a resource guide on Girl Scouts for Catholic parishes. The Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth did not support or oppose parishes' involvement with the scouting group. The committee recommended clear communication at the local level, adding that some dioceses give individual troops a document with expectations to ensure that "every Catholic troop is free from any programming or activities contrary to the Church's teaching."

Of the 3 million Girl Scouts nationwide, an estimated 400,000 are Catholic.

Some Catholic parents say they are more comfortable with their daughters participating in AHG since the organization is pro-life in word and deed. Last January, AHG assisted the Diocese of Arlington, Va. as the largest sponsor of its national prayer gathering and youth rally in Washington, D.C. prior to the March for Life.

"As a Christian, [the pro-life cause] is something close to my heart," said Elizabeth Day, Emily's mother. Day co-founded the Seekonk troop with Maureen Brawley, the mother of Caitlin.

"The reason Maureen and I started this was because it was faith-based and had Christ at the center, and it was filled with scripture and morals and values that are in line with our faith," said Day.

Brawley said she is "thrilled" that AHG offers the Respect Life Patch.

"It's such a great witness for these young girls," she said, adding that she and her husband wanted Caitlin "to be involved in things that reinforced our values."

"It keeps that moral compass where we want it as parents," she said.