Three are among first group of females to become Eagle Scouts
Rachel and Mara Snyder, and Madeline “Maddie” Mullin are part of history. They are part of the inaugural group of young women to become Eagle Scouts in the Boy Scouts of America.
The Snyders, identical twins who are freshmen at Virginia Commonwealth University and members of St. Michael the Archangel, Glen Alen, and Maddie, their lifelong friend, a home-schooled high school senior and member of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Richmond, give credit in part to their families and their faith for their accomplishment.
For all three, the love of Scouting was planted early by their families. Mara and Rachel’s great grandfather was one of the country’s first Eagle Scouts. Their father followed in his footsteps, something the girls wished to do as well.
Maddie was a member of Girl Scouts for five years but enjoyed tagging along on her younger brother’s Boy Scouts activities.
Maddie’s mother, Sarah, had longed to be a part of her own brother’s Scouting adventures as well, and saw that same longing for adventure in her four daughters. She also has one son.
When the dream of female Eagle Scouts became more realistic, the family took a weekend camping trip to try to figure out how they could start a troop in Richmond.
Maddie’s older sister, Anna, who had severe developmental delays, was diagnosed with Leukemia shortly after this trip and died one month later. This event served as a catalyst to create something lasting and good.
“We were devastated,” Maddie recalled. “As we were re-learning how to live our lives without Anna, one bright spot that helped us focus on the future was girls in Scouting.”
Maddie reached out to Rachel and Mara Snyder, and they got to work. St. Michael Parish supported the endeavor. They needed five girls to form a charter; they got six. By the end of 2019, they had 11. That eventually grew to 21.
Maddie’s father, John, became scoutmaster for Troop 736G, and her mother became an adult leader. Rachel and Mara’s father serves as an assistant scoutmaster. One important part of BSA is that the Scouts, not parents, lead the troop.
“The adults joke that they are only there to call the ambulance or reserve a campsite,” said Rachel. “They are responsible for health and safety. That is it. The Scouts are the ones who run meetings. They get the freedom to make mistakes – and learn from them.”
Busy, not bored
When Rachel heard the news that girls were allowed to become Eagle Scouts, she was overjoyed.
“I wanted to climb trees, camp, white-water raft, be an amazing archer, identify native plants and animals, earn a sash that shows my experience, and have friends who wanted to do it with me. I just assumed it wasn’t possible,” she said.
After signing up, the three young women immediately started working toward becoming Eagle Scouts.
Mathematically speaking, it was possible for them to earn their Eagle Scout rank — but just barely. They would only have about two years to accomplish what would normally take someone much longer, e.g., it took Rachel and Mara’s father six years to earn the rank.
There were several lower ranks they had to achieve before this, each with their own list of requirements and activities. It would take an incredible amount of dedication and focus, things which they did not lack. They were determined to exceed expectations. And then something entirely unexpected happened: the pandemic.
While some teens may have felt bored or lonely during a year of quarantine, Scouts has provided a sense of community and a way to fill up the days.
“The busyness has definitely helped,” said Mara. “I can’t say that in any point I’ve felt lonely or bored over this last year of lockdown.”
The troop has continued to hold meetings twice a week and have monthly activities. Even though they have largely stayed socially distant, they have managed to grow closer.
“Having siblings and close friends striving to achieve the same goals was above all one of the reasons why we were able to succeed,” said Mara.
Mara and Rachel are two of six children – all girls, ranging in age from 21 to 2. They and their 14-year-old sister, Elizabeth, are all in the same troop. Nine-year-old Therese is a Bear Scout.
Mara noted the challenges some girls may feel trying to become Eagle Scouts.
“There is a desire to prove that letting you try wasn’t a mistake, which is a personal pressure that I know a lot of the girls felt,” she said. “You simply had to be better than your male peers because if you failed, you would have a lot further to fall.”
One of the main requirements of becoming an Eagle Scout is a final project. The Scout has to come up with the idea herself, write the proposal, and run and complete the project, all while demonstrating the skills she has learned during her journey as a Scout.
Mara is majoring in environmental studies, and her love of nature is evident in her Eagle Scout project. She decided to make bird toys for a local parrot rescue program.
She stated she’s had a passion for birds since the age of 9 when she got her first finch, who is impressively still alive. She’s been fostering birds through the parrot rescue for five years and hopes to work as a wildlife rehabilitator.
“Mara and Rachel have always been passionate about their appreciation for nature, wanting to observe and protect and learn everything they can,” said mom, Donna. “Scouts has helped them hone that into real dreams of how they can take this passion into their adult lives.”
Maddie’s project was inspired by her deceased sister.
“Anna had shaped our lives. I basically grew up as one of her caregivers, and after she was gone, my life became easier, but definitely not better,” she said. “I wanted to do something with this new, but painful, freedom. I wanted to help other children and families like ours.”
A robotics enthusiast, Maddie used a 3D printer to create specialized luggage tag-style medical alert tags that can be attached to a wheelchair, stroller or car seat. She led a team that designed, printed and assembled these tags, and then ran a drive-thru demonstration and distribution event, all while adhering to COVID regulations.
“We are proud of the work Madeline has done and her accomplishments,” said Maddie’s parents. “The determination and planning she demonstrated to reach her goal is inspiring. Cold nights of camping in the rain she met cheerfully, knowing this was the path to her goal.”
Like her sister, Rachel’s project also focused on nature and birds, specifically chimney swifts. Rachel explained that chimney swifts are an endangered species living in Virginia. They lack adequate nesting sites, and their numbers have been declining for decades.
Since there is a flock of chimney swifts at the twins’ parish, Rachel designed, planned and built a 10-foot steel tower for them to safely build their nests. She wanted to raise local awareness that there are living things here who need help.
“You don’t need to travel the world to find a species that needs protection or some critter that stands out as special. All you need to do is go outside and observe the world around you,” she said.
It is in nature that she nurtures her relationship with God.
“Honestly, the times that I feel closest to God are when I am camping,” she said. “When I am out in nature and the world is quiet, the mountains are overhead, the birds are singing and everything is at peace. Seeing the amazing world around us that God has created, it gives you the space to listen and hear him.”
Faith integral to work
At BSA, talking about religion is not taboo; it is integral. There are 12 “points” of BSA, and the last one is “Reverent: Be reverent toward God. Be faithful in your religious duties. Respect the beliefs of others.”
“It is the first club I’ve attended where you can and are encouraged to openly talk about your faith,” Mara stated. “I’ve spent hours talking to my atheist friends from Scouts about what exactly we believe, and in turn, they have explained to me what they believe. Scouts gave me a chance to find context in faith, to find where my religion and what I believe fits into the world.”
After two years of hard work, they have realized their goals.
“I would’ve never dreamed this would be possible, and I am simply amazed at their accomplishment,” said Mara and Rachel’s dad, Patrick. “I stayed active with my childhood troop for a couple of years after I earned my Eagle but stepped away from Scouting after I had three daughters. I always figured I’d go back some day. Six daughters later, I guess I had to wait for the BSA to expand the program.”
Maddie’s parents described the pride they have in their daughter: “She has been fully immersed in so many ways with Scouting that the true rewards transcend something so fleeting as an inaugural class. It is an honor to be a part of it and to have that trailblazing journey recognized. But it is enough just to be able to do it. And that humility may be what brings us the most pride, ironically.”
Maddie, Mara and Rachel will continue to be active in Scouts and are excited about the adventures to come. They already have two planned: a base in Florida that offers Scouts the chance to sail around the Bahamas, tag sharks, scuba dive, snorkel in coral reefs and perform conservation work; and a base in New Mexico that offers Scouts backpacking, horseback riding and the opportunity examine dinosaur footprints.
They recognize that their accomplishments will open doors to more young women. They are hopeful others will join BSA and follow in their footsteps while creating their own paths.
“It is an amazing program that is going to let them achieve so much – let them see the world, have stories to tell, make friends that last a lifetime,” Rachel said. “I want them to have that. I’m glad they can now.”