For the first time since the founding of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) in 1910, the formation of female troops was granted, allowing women access to the Eagle Scout Award. Nissa Berle ’24 recently became one of the first female Eagle Scouts along with nearly 1,000 young women across the country.
The decision to allow women to form troops took place on February 1, 2019. For Berle, this news couldn’t have come soon enough. Although it takes most scouts about six years to meet all the requirements, Berle did not back down. “I was like, heck yes, I can do this, and I’m going to,” she said.
Berle was homeschooled while growing up in White Bluff, Tennessee, and joined Girl Scouts at age 7 as an extracurricular activity. She worked her way up earning badges until age 13, when she joined a co-ed crew as part of the BSA Venturing program Middle Tennessee Council. When BSA made its announcement in 2019, Berle put her leadership skills into action by serving as senior patrol leader of a new female troop of 11- to 15-year-olds.
“It was a really great leadership experience. I led the meetings each week and we went on several campouts, which I helped plan. I was responsible for the communication and planning,” said Berle, whose experience with mentoring a troop fed into her journey towards Eagle Scout status.
Berle took inspiration from her older brother, also an Eagle Scout, but knew she had to carve her own path. Then 17, she worried about not completing requirements before the 18-year age cutoff—“I just decided I’d do my best”—but BSA eventually granted extensions to women under 18 on the day of the announcement. From there, Berle began earning merit badges, which emphasize life skills including healthy cooking, personal fitness, and money management. Finally, she reached the last step integral to all scouting programs: a community service project.
Since scouting programs across the globe place a strong emphasis on acts of community service, the project culminates a scout’s work and is held to high standards.
After weighing her options, Berle embarked on a project recommended by her crew advisor with the Nashville Family Reconciliation Center, a nonprofit organization that provides free, overnight rooms for families visiting incarcerated loved ones. Berle’s project, which took two months to plan and about a week to complete, addressed stormwater issues damaging the building’s newly-repaired foundation.
According to Berle, “Nashville is not necessarily a cheap place to stay in a hotel overnight if you’re not financially well and want to visit your family. Keeping in contact with families helps with reintegration after release, so that was cycling through my mind. Then COVID-19 started and I really wanted to help them. We were able to work out ways to do it safely.”
After presenting the work she had undertaken and answering questions from a board of review in December, Berle officially achieved Eagle Scout status. She joined 20 other women from Middle Tennessee in a virtual recognition ceremony earlier this month hosted at the Grand Ole Opry. Berle has a humble and hardworking nature about her, but she reflected on her work with pride.
“It feels great. It was a really long journey and I’m filled with gratitude for all the people who helped me get there, like my parents, my leaders, and all my friends whom I’ve made during my time in scouting. I appreciate them and I’m proud.”
Even at Oberlin, Berle keeps in touch with her crew, attending meetings virtually. Currently, she is planning her service project for the Summit Award, the highest rank of achievement in the Venturing program. This summer, she will work on clearing an overgrown historic cemetery at Montgomery Bell State Park.
For Berle, acts of service extend far beyond earning awards. “With all the support my community gives to me, service is a way of giving back,” she said. “I’m making the sort of change I want to make.”
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