Tony Santiago gets beeped and makes a cell-phone call, but he gets rid of it quickly, because he has nine people waiting.
His key appointment this Thursday afternoon: 4th- and 5th-grade girls wearing green badge-filled sashes, preparing to conduct business from their "sit-upons" on the floor.
To Junior Girl Scout Troop 3175 in Loudoun County, Santiago isn't just a dad dropping by. He's their co-leader. At times, that makes him the only man in sight, like at a Girl Scout encampment in May, when Santiago was the only dad to stay overnight, in a tent by himself in the rain.
"It was me and 600 Girl Scouts," said Santiago, 31, who owns a security business and whose 9-year-old stepdaughter, Satoria, is a 4th-grader at Ashburn Elementary School. But it's a role he has embraced wholeheartedly. "For my relationship with my daughter, it's been a godsend. It's helped to bring us closer as a family."
Santiago, however, is still a rarity in an organization associated with girls and women. In the Girl Scout Council of the Nation's Capital (GSCNC), which encompasses the Washington region, only about 2 to 3 percent of the registered adult volunteers are male. This comes to somewhere between 400 to 600 among some 20,000 volunteers, which includes troop leaders as well as adults who serve as outdoor specialists, cookie managers, first-aiders and other jobs.
While men have always been accepted in the Girl Scout movement, the council about 10 years ago issued a policy to make it clear that men were both welcome and strongly encouraged to participate. "Girls need both female and male role models to be truly well-rounded," it said.
"There are sometimes questions, why is a man active in this? Girls have men in their lives -- fathers, grandfathers, godfathers, uncles, brothers. . . . There's no need to bar men at the door, so to speak," said Sandra King-Shaw, deputy director of the GSCNC. She said her impression is that there has been a gradual increase in the number of men involved at the troop leader level and in training in recent years.
The men themselves say they sometimes get stares at Girl Scout leaders' functions in rooms filled with women, but they try not to let that throw them.
"I do get looked at a lot. . . . I'm frequently the only man at many of the [Girl Scout] functions I attend, and I attend a lot of functions," said Michael D'Italia, who has co-led a Juniors troop and will co-lead his daughter Sarah's Cadet troop next fall.
D'Italia, a 35-year-old manager of a MotoPhoto in Rockville, also does campout training with the council and serves as a delegate from his association in southwest Montgomery County to the council's annual meeting. He was even the troop "cookie mom" one year.
"I think it's important that men get involved, but there aren't very many of us and I don't know why," said D'Italia, who lives in Gaithersburg with his wife and two daughters, 11-year-old Sarah and 7-year-old Emily, who is a Brownie.
Being so involved, he finds it galling when leaders who don't know him address a roomful of Girl Scout volunteers as "ladies," or who assume he doesn't know much about the organization.
"I love telling people I'm a Girl Scout," said D'Italia. "It's not your sex that makes you a Girl Scout. . . . I love camping and the outdoors, and I have girls, so it's Girl Scouts."
Although men can serve in almost any capacity in the Girl Scouts, they cannot lead a troop alone: There must be one female co-leader. The organization is sensitive to potential concerns about men having opportunities to molest girls or otherwise act improperly, and take pains to insure it won't happen. Men and women must submit three references before becoming leaders and are asked on their application if they have had their drivers' license revoked or been convicted of a crime. At any scout function, two adults must be present, and at least one must be a registered female volunteer. On campouts and other overnights, Girl Scout rules require that men sleep separately from the girls.
About a year after issuing the policy statement regarding men, the council started special training program, Men in Green. The workshops look at some issues and sensitivities men may encounter and use scenarios to talk about ways to handle sticky situations. (Example: a male first aider on a zoo trip has to deal with a hurt Junior Girl Scout "holding her behind under her dress." What to do? He could have another Junior treat the injury under his instruction while he and the rest of the troop form a privacy circle around them, he could send two girls to get the female leader or he could take them all to the zoo's first aid station.)
Moe Sherman, who helped develop the Men in Green training, has been involved in Girl Scouts for 17 years, ever since his older daughter was a Brownie, and for 15 years co-led troops at various levels. He continued to be a troop leader in Colesville, Md., even after his two daughters had left for college and now continues to do training.
At first he got involved because his wife had become a leader, a time-consuming role. "I figured if I ever wanted to see her, I'd better get involved." But he soon noticed that more than half the girls in that Brownie troop came from single-parent homes.
"For a lot of these girls, it's important that they have a sense that men can work with women" and have a male role model in their lives, said Sherman, 53, who works in advertising and technology for Giant Food. Even in two-parent families, "so many times the wife does things with the daughter, and the father with the son. As a parent, you miss out on so much."
The girls in Junior Troop 3175 seem to take it in stride that, in addition to Laura Davies and Melanie Baker, they have a male co-leader.
"I think it's kinda cool, because we're the only troop [that I know of] that has a dad leader," said Brittany Gamble, 10. "At first I thought it was going to be kinda weird, but then I got to know him."
Several of the girls in the troop would like to see more dads involved, including their own. "Dads should start being Girl Scout leaders, because they can get closer to their daughters," commented Kimberly Davies. "I think my dad would be good Girl Scout leader because he knows about space and stuff."
Other girls in the troop volunteered that their dads knew lots of "fun stuff" they could teach the troop and that they would like their dads to get to know them and their friends better. But several also talked about how busy their dads were and how hard it would be for them to make twice-monthly meetings at 3:30 in the afternoon.
Barbara Huff, mom of Junior Girl Scout Alex Huff and a former troop leader herself, said she "didn't sense a single concern" when Santiago became a co-leader this year.
"My main helping `mom' was a dad," Huff noted, one ready to take a clumsy stab at sewing and to proudly carry a Girl Scout banner in a parade. "Sometimes with a man, there is a different type of authority they have," she added, and having a male presence on Girl Scout field trips can be good from a safety standpoint.
More dads seem to be pitching in, Huff said: "Having Tony as a troop leader might have helped bring more of the dads out."
For more information, contact GSCNC at: 202-237-1670.
CAPTION: Tony Santiago, co-leader of Junior Girl Scout Troop 3175, jokes with troop members at a meeting at Woods Recreation Center, Ashburn, Va.
CAPTION: Tony Santiago talks with Marie Eszenyi, left, and Brittany Gamble during the troop meeting.