Avery Maxwell knew from the start that she wouldn’t have time to spare. She was in a race with the calendar. There would be lots to do, and, in the beginning, she figured she’d have only about two years to do it. She had to wrap up everything before she turned 18. Her 18th arrives next month, on Valentine’s Day.

Joe Earle is editor-at-large at Reporter Newspapers and has lived in metro Atlanta for over 30 years. He can be reached at joeearle@reporternewspapers.net.

“It’s so close, yet so hard,” the Dunwoody High School senior said recently, “because there was so much work to do and so little time to do it.”

Before she started in 2019, she charted what she had to do on an online task board. She figured out her deadlines along the way and determined she could just make it in time. So, she set to work.

This month, Avery is scheduled to wrap up her race to become one of the first girls in the country to be awarded an Eagle Scout rank by the Boy Scouts. Yes, you read that right. Boy Scouts. If all goes as planned, Avery will join the inaugural flight of girl Eagles.

In February of 2019, the Boy Scouts of America changed. The organization, renamed Scouts BSA, for the first time allowed girls to join. That meant girls, in girls-only troops, could earn BSA merit badges, go camping as BSA scouts, and earn the BSA’s highest rank, the Eagle Scout.

Avery wanted in. Her two older brothers had been Boy Scouts and had reached Eagle rank, and she wanted to do the same. She had tried Girl Scouts for several years when she was younger, but quit, she said, after deciding that program wasn’t for her. She wanted more camping and outdoor activities.

Her dad, Robert Maxwell, said that when the Boy Scouts first announced plans to allow girls to join, “she made a beeline for me and said, ‘Dad, I’m joining.’”

The Scouts BSA program did offer her the chance to get out into the wild. She took part in an eight-day canoe trip near the U.S.-Canada border in 2019, she said. She planned on hiking this past summer at the Boy Scout’s Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, but that trip was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Avery Maxwell works on the observation platform she planned and built at the Dunwoody Nature Center to earn her Eagle rank through Scouts BSA. (Special/Robert Maxwell)

Still, her main goal remained earning that Eagle rank. Only a small fraction of the boys (and now girls) who start out in scouting reach that rank, she said, “and I wanted to be part of that 5%.”

Why? “It means you can work for a long period of time and actually put your mind to doing something that big,” she said.

In September, Scouts BSA announced that all the girls across the country awarded Eagle rank by Feb. 8, 2021, would be considered part of the inaugural group of girl Eagles and their awards would note that fact.

That appeals to Avery. “Having that on your resume…,” she said, “saying, ‘I’m in the first group of [girl] Eagle Scouts,’ that will be amazing.”

To make it in time, her father said, she needs to wrap up her project and application so it can be approved by the middle of this month, her dad said. “I will make it,” Avery said. “I just need to get the paperwork done.”

What do her brothers think of her becoming an Eagle Scout? “They think it’s really cool that I was able to join them, especially in the time I had. They took their own sweet time about it. They got [something like] six or seven years [to finish]. I had two.”

And the COVID-19 pandemic slowed things at times, making it difficult to do things she needed to do to collect some of the ranks and badges she needed. Still, there were only a couple of times when she questioned whether she could finish.

For her Eagle Project, she decided to build a pavilion at the Dunwoody Nature Center, where visitors can observe a working beehive. She organized construction of the structure and raised money through a Go Fund Me page to pay for it. Any excess contributions, she said, will go to the nature center.

In December, she and her crew of volunteers (including, her dad said, both her brothers and her boyfriend) were finishing up the project, the last thing on her list before submitting her claim on Eagle rank for review. What did she have to say now that the end of her two-year Eagle pursuit was so near? She thought about that a moment. “It’s been a lot of hard work …,” she said. “It’s crazy… Wow.”

Then she was off to spend part of her weekend writing emails to solicit more contributions for her project. Her deadline loomed. She had things yet to do and the days were growing short.

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.