If you would have your son to walk honorably through the world, you must not attempt to clear the stones from his path, but teach him to walk firmly over them – not insist upon leading him by the hand, but let him learn to go alone.Anne Bronte
A young man’s journey to Eagle starts the very moment he proudly dons his Scouting uniform for the very first time. If he’s a young Cub Scout, that navy blue shirt and colorful neckerchief feels like shining armor, making a boy feel like he can conquer all the wrong in the world and do his best to make it a better place. As the years pass and the words in their handbook become a vast and colorful collection of patches, pins, and loops, a boy transforms from a ball of wild energy to a refined individual who is confident and capable of doing so much more than they ever imagined.
Something happens to us as parents, as well. We see our children grow up before our very eyes, becoming more independent with every meeting, joining the ranks of fine young people that go on to move mountains. As I write this, the pride I feel for my son wells up in my eyes, there’s just too much of it to contain. If we’ve learned anything as parents, it’s that our children grow up whether you’re ready or not so you may as well make the most of it! Dig in along side of them, encourage their creativity, support their past times and interests, and lead them from behind. We’re not perfect by any stretch, but what we lack we make up for in love, respect, and a genuine desire to see them succeed. My husband and I know that the greatest act that we can perform for our children is to simply let go a little bit at a time, encouraging them along the way, until they’re ready. We’re teaching them to fly like Eagles, not balloons.
This is why we so eagerly registered both boys for Scouts. We understood the value of the program and knew that any day out in the woods or learning how to tie knots would be favorable over video games. We hoped that they’d learn a little bit about life while having fun with other Scouts. We were certain they would find other trusted adults that would become beacons of a brighter future. We were right.
The rank of Eagle comes up regularly around here; our oldest son is nearly there and our youngest, an Arrow of Light, is already contemplating his career in the Troop. They look up to their grandfather for countless reasons, not the least of which is that he attained that special rank himself as a youth in the BSA. It’s something they want, something they’ve been working toward since attending the first grade, and something that one is about six months from achieving.
Eagle Scout Rank
Becoming an Eagle Scout is just about the only thing you can put on your resume at age fifty that you did at age fourteen – and it still impresses.Randy Pausch
It’s true that, when you hear “Eagle Scout,” you are impressed, even if you’re not quite sure what it truly means. Eagle is the highest possible achievement in the Scouts BSA program. This special rank was first created in 1911, and though it’s been earned by over 2.5 million youth, that’s only 4% of the youth in Scouts.
This elite rank requires years of work, service, and dedication. When Michael completes the requirements, he’ll have completed countless service project hours and filled numerous leadership positions. He’ll have finished many more than the minimum 21 merit badges. He’ll have learned how to work on and lead a team, live in a way that benefits the conservation of our natural resources, tie knots for every possible use, safely handle a pocket knife and other tools, be safe online, camp in all kinds of weather, provide healthy meals for his patrol and cook it over an open fire and camp stoves, perform first aid for everything from a simple cut to a stroke, get and stay physically fit, react in an emergency, teach others using the EDGE method, identify wildlife evidence like tracks or signs, perform water rescue, be considerate and empathetic of individuals with different abilities, create and abide by a budget, use a compass and other orienteering tools, be a strong swimmer, be a thoughtful and responsible citizen of the local community and the world, demonstrate Scout Spirit, perform and understand the duties of dozens of jobs and responsibilities available to him as a career in the future. He will be ready to carry the weight of that rank and prepared to inspire others, like his brother, to do the same.
The first Eagle Scout medal was awarded in 1912 to Arthur Rose Eldred, a 17-year-old member of Troop 1 of Rockville Center, Long Island, New York. Guess who sat on his Board of Review? Lord Baden-Powell himself had just arrived in the United States earlier in the day and made himself available to sit in on this historic event. No pressure, Arthur!
Eagle Scout Service Project
The Eagle Project is the culmination of years of practicing leadership. Scouts look out into their community for opportunities to leave something better than they found it, to find a group that could benefit from their particular skill set and interests. Because Scouts are learning about life in the great outdoors, you’ll find that many projects are intended to make them easier to access. They tend to be excellent carpenters, engineers, and draftsmen. Because they are at an age where they’re not quite children and not yet adults, they still harness an unbridled imagination that makes great things possible. Growing up in patrols, they have plenty of willing helping hands to make their ideas come to life.
Boys’ Life Magazine has a great site dedicated to Eagle Scout Service Projects, including fun before and after photos that show just how important and varied these projects are.
Choosing a project takes time. As Scouts complete merit badges and learn about what interests them, they tend to make connections that open doors to opportunity. Michael knew he didn’t want to make a series of benches, not because they aren’t absolutely worthy or useful, but because he wanted something that would last and be helpful for years and years to come. Would it be a raised community garden at our chartering organization? A series of little libraries around town? An homage to our local veterans? Then there are the nerves to consider; will he have confidence in his leadership skills and feel prepared to corral his work crew into respectfully performing the service project to his standards? Will they take him seriously?
This summer, we decided to visit Pocahontas State Park, a favorite of ours for many reasons. We spend a lot of time at this park hiking the trails, geocaching, playing in the water park, camping, and enjoying the visitors center, but had never visited the Civilian Conservation Corp Museum (the CCC Museum). On this serendipitous trip, we decided to cool off and take in a history lesson about the creation of our beloved Virginia State Parks, and met our newest friend Aaron-Paula Thompson (APT for short). APT is the curator of the CCC Museum, and when we walked in she began telling us about then-President Franklin Roosevelt’s determination to provide work for the 13.6 million unemployed people in the United States during the Great Depression by creating the Civilian Conservation Corp. The intent was to put approximately 500,000 unemployed youth to work while creating the forest, parks, and rangelands we are so blessed to enjoy today. On June 15, 1936, just 3 years after the creation of the CCC, Virginia opened six State Parks simultaneously, and what we now know as Pocahontas State Park wasn’t far behind.
The CCC was in full swing for 9 years, employing more than 3 million men that would come to be known as “The Tree Troopers,” and beautifying our nation. They truly did leave a mark on history, one that we should all be forever grateful for, and which is painstakingly preserved at the CCC Museum at Pocahontas State Park.
The CCC Museum is a small building, fairly close to the visitors center, near the Old Mill trailhead and spillway. When you walk inside, you’re greeted by a smiling face and a room full of amazing artifacts!
Upon noticing our Scouts BSA activity uniforms (yep, we were proudly wearing our Pack and Troop 521 Class B shirts that day), APT asked Michael if he had thought about his Eagle Project yet. What we didn’t know was that APT has a long and wonderful relationship with the Scouting program, even referring to herself as a “Life Scout” because she’s in it for life. She knew the Eagle Scout rank requirements and service project process inside and out, understood the importance of a meaningful task, and had the perfect project for Michael hiding out behind a closed storage room door.
What we walked into was an alcove and archive that were so stuffed with furniture and artifacts that it took us two trips out before we noticed a utility sink in the back corner. You couldn’t even take proper photos of the space because you didn’t have the elbow room to get a shot, so all we had to go on was a few very close-up snaps of the general area.
APT needed help clearing the rooms, removing the old wooden furniture that was off-gassing and ruining the original blueprints stored within, separating the artifacts from cleaning products that could adversely affect their quality, and providing storage solutions that would make inventory and accessing the artifacts easier for the park staff. The existing metal storage and filing cabinets would need to go, the archival boxes needed to be stored properly, and there would be loads and loads of trash to haul off. They also needed a work area for sorting and inventorying artifacts that would be separate from the actual archive and museum. The gears started turning and, as ideas began flowing, Michael started getting more and more excited about helping APT and the Virginia State Parks with what turned out to be a tremendous Eagle Scout Service Project.
We couldn’t have asked for a better beneficiary or role model. Because of her Scouting experience, APT knew that providing Michael with the opportunity, explaining why it was so important, and allowing him to independently form and execute a plan (with expert guidance along the way, of course) would keep him personally invested and proud of his effort. She met with our family several times over the months that followed, helping Michael to refine his plan and finalize the most effective and efficient solutions possible. Together they determined the project would require two 6-hour work days in the museum, decided how many helpers he would need to complete the project, and lined up several material donors.
Michael worked diligently on his Eagle Scout Service Project workbook, excitedly presented his plan to Troop leadership, and began amassing volunteers and materials to make the project a success. The garage was full of filing cabinets, plastic shelving pieces, tools, and tarp. He spent 3 hours power washing the donated items, making sure they were museum-ready, drummed up Scout support, and made a detailed food and snack plan. He was nervously excited.
Day 1 of 2 – Pocahontas State Park CCC Museum
Day 1 was all about clearing and cleaning the space. There was everything a Scout could possibly want – demolition and donuts! He and his volunteers worked to carefully move antique items like specialized tools and park signs to original winter wool jackets worn by the CCC workers. There were rolls of archival paper and countless boxes full of historical items that APT has worked for years to preserve.
As each item was moved out of the space, it was exciting to see just how much room there really was in the alcove and archive. Even with our measurements in hand, it was hard to know if the space itself would fit the shelving without seeing it emptied of all the clutter.
The day went by quickly – hard work makes the time fly. By the time we left, the space was clear and clean, and the new plastic shelving had been installed. It was time to regroup and talk about what we would achieve in day 2.
Day 2 of 2 – Pocahontas State Park CCC Museum
Day 1 was about tearing down, day 2 was about building up! Everyone slept like logs and were happy to be so tired. We started off the day with more donuts and more help, making Michael’s plan come together with very little trouble. A cabinet was installed over the utility sink to separate and store the cleaning solutions, the museum artifacts and archival boxes were organized and stored away on the new shelving, more trash was hauled away, a work area was made with shelves built using lumber we saved from our first day of work, and a few small tasks here and there completed the project.
After approximately 150 total service hours, with thanks to the help of APT and his many volunteers, Michael had a lot to be proud of.
You can take pictures in this space now! APT pointed out that you could actually perform yoga in the archives if you wanted to, whereas before you could barely even turn around. We all just kept walking in and out of the spaces to take in the remarkable change and wonder over the difference a couple of days of hard work can make.
A Mother’s Musings on What We All Learned
Some Scouts start off this process thinking it’s a box that needs to be checked before they can earn that coveted rank of Eagle. They’re right to a certain extent; the experience of providing a service to someone in need, something that provides benefits to people you’ll never meet or know, is a requirement that absolutely must be completed. I would wager a bet that most Scouts reach a point in the project where it clicks and they understand the purpose of Baden-Powell’s grand plan. With every hour that passes, every detail of the plan, every success, a Scout learns as much about themselves as they do about leadership or how to use a hammer. It’s about personal development, growth, and building confidence. It’s about learning how to lean on others, ask for help, and learn limits. It’s a lesson in perseverance, integrity, and time management. It’s an opportunity to work with your heart and to know for certain that you alone can make a tremendous difference in the world. What a gift! Badge and accolades aside, earning Eagle is an exercise in discovering yourself and being proud of what you find.
Michael learned that planning ahead and well is critical for success. He knows now that being dependable is more than just showing up, it’s about looking wider still and finding ways to do more and be better.
As a family, we learned that we can depend on one another. We can ask for help when we need it, know that it’s happily available to us, and that this is a family that will get in the trenches and work hard for one another. My sons know that mom and dad are on their side through thick and thin. They know that they can rely on each other now and in the future and that brotherhood is something special that they’ll treasure for life. My husband and I know that we are raising two wonderful young men who will fly off one day and become contributing, caring members of society. They’ll be men who will roll up their sleeves for other people… or donuts. We all learned that John Muir was right when he said “In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.” Were it not for that afternoon hike at Pocahontas State Park, we wouldn’t have found this opportunity and we wouldn’t now call APT our friend and family.
As a mother I learned that raising sons is the single most joyful and rewarding job I’ll ever have. Being their mother and experiencing their growth, rapidly and before my very eyes, is a gift that I truly cannot believe I deserve. Seeing Michael achieve so much in his fourteen years makes me excited for his future and the people that he’ll bring into our family. He’s not an Eagle yet – there’s still one badge to complete and a leadership term to finish before his big day – but he’s the kind of young man I dreamed he would be and more. My heart is so full of love and admiration for him that it might actually burst in my chest.
Our Virginia State Parks hold a special place in our family’s collective memory. They’ve been the setting of countless special events, memorable adventures, and relaxing trips. They’ve hosted our family for years, providing us with one beautiful backdrop after another, from the Coastal Plains to the Appalachian Plateau. We have love for every single park and the people that dedicate their lives and careers to the preservation of our natural resources and Virginia history. Though we have a long list of favorites, this experience places Pocahontas State Park at the very top. If you haven’t visited Pocahontas State Park, we implore you to do so and soon. If you stop by the CCC Museum, see if APT is on duty and say hello!
Yours in Scouting,
Try to leave this world a little better than you found it and, when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best.Lord Robert Baden-Powell