“I never thought that I would have the chance to be a Scoutmaster and have the opportunity to lead these girls. I, of course, couldn’t turn it down.”

Photo courtesy Denise Bautista
From left to right: Trinity Stocksick (Eagle Scout), Denise Bautista (Scoutmaster), and Kiana Nielsen (Eagle Scout).

By Kelly Barbazette

Kelly Barbazette

Scoutmaster Denise Bautista finds joy in watching the young women in her troop grow and forge their own paths.

“I’m so proud of these kids and their accomplishments and what they’re able to do,” she said. “It’s so motivating watching them. They’re just little trail blazers.”

Denise, 52, is blazing her own trail as the first female Scoutmaster in not only Morgan Hill but all southern Santa Clara County. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with her about her involvement in the Scouts BSA program (formerly Boy Scouts) in South Valley.

Denise moved to Morgan Hill from San Bruno, where she grew up, after getting married nearly 20 years ago. She and her husband, John Bautista, raised their three children in the house that his parents built.

She first became involved in Scouts when their son was 6. He joined the Tiger Scouts and then the Cub Scouts, where Denise served as the troop’s den leader and became heavily involved helping with committees and events. When he moved onto Boy Scouts, Denise stepped back to take a break and learn more about the program.

“It’s quite different from Cub Scouts,” she said. “Where Cub Scouts are led by the parents, the Boy Scouts are led by the youths. It’s amazing watching them. When there’s a problem, they’ll figure out a solution, sometimes we’ll nudge them to a solution, but they make them their own. Watching them grow and find solutions to problems, it’s been gratifying to me as a parent.”

The Scouts also have allowed her son an opportunity to make friends outside of school and to enjoy some family time in nature.

“I love going camping. I love being outdoors and hiking,” she said. “To do that as a family and build those memories that he can look back on as an adult and for him to say, ‘I did that with my mom and dad,’ those are the experiences I want him to remember.”

In 2019, when the Boy Scouts of America allowed girls to join the program, Denise was asked to serve as the Scoutmaster for the inaugural troop in Morgan Hill. Allowing girls to participate has also paved the way for young women to become Eagle Scouts — the program’s highest rank.

“I jumped at the opportunity. I never thought that I would have the chance to be a Scoutmaster and have the opportunity to lead these girls. I, of course, couldn’t turn it down.”

Girls Troop 799 — Morgan Hill is the only girls troop in South County. A few others are located in Hollister, San Jose, and Saratoga. The troop started with eight girls and has grown to 14 young women between the ages of 11 and 16 — with two young women from the inaugural troop remaining. Denise said they met over Zoom and managed to maintain their membership during the pandemic. She said they have had tremendous support from the community and the boys troop, including donations to buy a flag, and cooking and camping equipment from Johnson Lumber and the Kiwanis Club of Morgan Hill, who charters the troop.

The troop leads itself, Denise explained, with the girls making key decisions including who will be the senior patrol leader, where they’ll camp, and what activities they’ll do. She’s there mainly as “referee,” to ensure the young women meet the requirements to advance in rank, to discuss with them their future goals, leadership roles, Eagle Scout project ideas, as well as “just helping them down the path to their best selves and watching them become the best versions of themselves and remind them to live by the Scout values.”

When it came time recently for the troop to decide the next scout patrol leader, three of the young women who were qualified to serve couldn’t figure out who to choose. Two had already held the role and the third didn’t want to do it. Denise took a step back and let them work toward a decision. By the end of the meeting, the one who was hesitant to take on the role changed her mind.

“She did an amazing job. She was so nervous and I just told her to just own it,” she said. “So, watching them come full circle is super rewarding.”

This is the first year Denise is continuing her involvement in the program without her son’s participation. He became an Eagle Scout in 2020.

“It’s kind of a little bit of a shift. But I want to be there for the kids and I have some great friends that I go to summer camp with every year. To have those experiences and support everyone, it’s really meaningful to me.”

When she’s not camping or leading the troop, Denise enjoys spending time with her husband and their two full-grown Labradors “that run our lives,” Denise laughed. They adopted the dogs after raising puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind for about five years.

When asked what advice she would give to other women pursuing their goals, Denise said to follow your heart.

“Don’t let people tell you that you can’t do something. Like the girls who are in our Scout troop, they’re little trail blazers. They’re breaking stereotypes and molds that are around us. Just do it and just own it.”

She encourages young women to consider participating in Scouts.

“I love seeing the kids involved in scouting. It’s such a great program,” she said. “Whether it’s Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, they offer a different flavor. Having our girls have an opportunity to be part of the program I think is great.”

Besides the program being a fun place to learn a myriad of skills, it gives boys and girls a chance to become an Eagle Scout. It’s an achievement that carries distinction and honor — boosting a resume or a career in the military, Denise said.

“I know what is involved and the commitment and character that stands behind that badge,” she said.

Troop 799 is always seeking new members, Denise said.

“If you like going camping and being outside, give it a shot.”

Kelly Barbazette

Kelly Barbazette, a former journalist for Bay Area newspapers, is a freelance writer. She lives in Gilroy with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at [email protected].