Victor Logan, 18, spent his senior year at St. Augustine's Prep, in Buena Vista Township, applying to college and planning his future. He will study biology and pre-med at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia in the Fall.
But he was also working on another big goal - becoming an Eagle Scout. He achieved it in early May. He is one of five members of Troop 389, associated with Atlantic Christian School in Egg Harbor Township, who have completed Eagle projects this year.
"Our group set the bar pretty high. We all made Eagle," Logan said of the five oldest members, four of whom started the troop in 2006. "We're showing kids they can make it, too."
Most people know that young men have to complete large community service projects to become Eagle Scouts, the highest rank attainable as a Boy Scout. Logan's project was to transform a storage room at Asbury United Methodist Church in Atlantic City into a meditation room. It will be used by congregants and by members of other churches that rent the facility, like Grace Cathedral Baptist Church, which Logan attends.
But there is more to becoming an Eagle Scout than a single impressive project, said Bill Schmitz, 72, of Mays Landing, who has been involved in Scouting for 63 years and is himself an Eagle Scout.
"There are 6,600 skills a boy will learn on the trail to Eagle," Schmitz said. They must earn at least 21 merit badges, each with multiple specific requirements, he said.
While the Boy Scouts were created in 1910, the Eagle Scout rank didn't get started until 1912, so this year is its 100th anniversary.
"The goal was to create a leader, a boy who has given service, and a boy who has specific skills - can swim, can start a fire, go camping, use a knife - who is a well-rounded young man," said Schmitz, who spent 22 years in the Air Force, then worked for the Boy Scouts for 13 years, and now is a substitute teacher at Hess School in Hamilton Township.
Since the projects are large, the boys must learn to recruit and organize volunteers to help achieve a goal, he said. Scouts have to finish the work to become an Eagle by their 18th birthday, he said, and many don't make the deadline.
"The odds are two percent. About 120 million boys have been in the Boy Scouts since 1910, and 2.2 million have made Eagle," Schmitz said.
The Atlantic Christian School troop is beating those odds. The other members who have finished Eagle projects are Miles Clark, 18, of Egg Harbor Township, who raised money and contracted to have shelves built for Shore Medical Center's pediatric wing, and stocked them with books collected at St. Augustine Prep; Ryan Goukler, 18, of Ventnor, who removed old playground equipment at Margate Community Church and built a new fence and walkway using funds from selling memorial bricks; Michael Winder, 18, of Seaville in Upper Township, who redid the sound system in Atlantic Christian School; and Asher Nothaft, 18, of Pleasantville, who repaired and reorganized a storage room for VFW Post 3361 in Ventnor.
When a boy decides to try for Eagle, he must write up a proposal that resembles a business plan, said Baysea District Advancement Co-Chairperson Paul Beckwith, of Upper Deerfield, who reviews Eagle projects in Cape May and Cumberland counties. The Scout presents his idea to a panel, which decides if he can move forward with it or not.
After it's approved, and the work is done, the candidate writes up a detailed report on what he did, who helped, what his safety plan was and what materials were used. Then he has an Eagle Board of Review, which decides if he has attained the rank or not, Beckwith said.
Last month, four Cumberland County boys from two troops who had finished their projects went before such a panel at the Boy Scout office in Millville. Nikolai Palys, 17, of Vineland, had refurbished a mini golf course at the YMCA's Camp Rice in Vineland; Johnathan Paterno, 17, of Vineland, built a storage area and made buttons for clients to wear at the Transitional Adult Program run by Caring in Mays Landing; Alexandre Arsenault, 17, of Vineland, sandblasted and repainted the iron archway at the Veterans Memorial Home Cemetery in Vineland; and David Hoadley, 16, of Vineland, who cleared and blazed trails, moved and rebuilt bridges and plaques at Camp Rice.
Beckwith asked each to recite the Boy Scout Oath and Law at the start of questioning, knowing most would stumble a bit out of nervousness. One boy couldn't remember much of it at all, until an adult said, "I forgot mine (when going for Eagle)," and broke the ice. Then the words flowed.
The panel had already read through the boys' reports, so they focused on questions about what the boys learned from being involved with Scouting over the years, and even asked them for suggestions on improving the program. Most remembered camping trips and summer camps with particular fondness. All walked out approved to be Eagles.
Most boys take five to six years to complete all the requirements. But Nothaft, of the Atlantic Christian School group, didn't even join Scouting until three years ago. He caught up with a lot of hard work, Schmitz said.
Nothaft joined Scouts because he thought it would help him gain the skills needed to go to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. But some hard realities have forced a change of plans.
"My dream was always to go to the Naval Academy, graduate, do some years in the Navy and then come back and learn everything from my father," he said of ultimately joining his dad's party planning business, Dennis Nothaft LLC. The company created elaborate sets and put on big parties for corporations and casinos.
But his dad died suddenly at age 51, in December 2009. Now Nothaft plans to attend either Rutgers University or Richard Stockton College of New Jersey to study technical theater. He'll then start up his own business similar to his father's, using equipment being stored for him by a family friend, he said.
Nothaft's project was done over about three months last spring and summer at the VFW Post 3361 in Ventnor. He cleaned out a storage area, repaired the walls, painted and built new shelving.
"They hadn't seen the walls in many years. When we pulled everything out, we discovered it was a lot more damaged than originally thought. The walls were falling apart," Nothaft said. "We got crow bars and started pulling out rotted dry wood."
Peter Lumber in Pleasantville donated sheetrock, lumber, nails and other supplies; and Ace Hardware in Northfield donated spackle and caulk.
Nothaft said about 20 different people helped him.
"The Eagle Scout project is supposed to teach you how to be a leader, how to organize and get everybody to do what they are supposed to do," Nothaft said.
Other area boys are just starting on their projects.
Saml Karabashian, 15, of Ventnor, is another member of the Atlantic Christian group. He hopes to build benches at several Atlantic County bus stops, and recently Assemblyman Chris Brown helped him make contact with NJ Transit, which told him it doesn't control the land where the stops are.
So he will go to Hamilton Township and Egg Harbor Township to seek permission to put benches at six to 12 stops in those towns, he said. A local businessman recently promised to fund the materials for the benches.
Rob Bishop, 17, of Vineland, will clean out a wing of an old rectory in Vineland, to help create a food pantry.
Bishop, like Nothaft, is relatively new to Scouting, but that isn't stopping him from trying for Eagle.
"I always wanted to experience (being a Boy Scout). I wanted to learn the stuff that comes with it," said Bishop, who was Boy Scout of the Year for 2010 for the Baysea Council. "I want to get the most I can out of my experience."
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