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Scouts Help Their Community As They Work Toward Eagle Ranking



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Every year, Boy Scouts across the country are involved with projects to benefit their communities. Along with this hard work, the scouts not only gain valuable experience, but they raise their status, eventually topping off with the Eagle ranking. Among them are several from Newtown who have become, or are on their way to becoming, Eagle Scouts, in the past year alone.

As impressive as the projects themselves is the number of scouts who are working their way to the top here in town.

The national average number of scouts who earn Eagle rank, according to Newtown Troop 370 Scoutmaster Jason Almeter, is about 1 in 20. In Troop 370 alone, five of 33 members - 24 of whom are active (he notes that scouts may become active at any time) - achieved the rank this year. This marks the second year in a row, in fact, that five Troop 370 scouts achieved the top ranking.

One of those currently working toward his Eagle ranking is Daniel Reilly, 16, who is putting the finishing touches on overseeing the creation and instillation of a kiosk at Newtown Forest Association's (NFA) Nettleton Memorial Orchard, which will provide information to hikers about the NFA and orchard.

Conrad Reilly, Daniel's 17-year-old brother, recently completed his Eagle Scout project, making a storage shed for LOF Adaptive Skiers, a nonprofit organization based in Sandy Hook.

Conrad explained that scouts organize and facilitate their projects, obtaining materials, talking to donors as well as beneficiaries, and filling out paperwork. Although a lot of the hands-on work is left to scoutmasters and parents, the scouts themselves do get involved.

Daniel's experience in working on his school's stage crew helped him with some of the carpentry work necessary for putting up a wooden kiosk at Nettleton Preserve, on Castle Hill Road, which provides a spectacular view of the town.

The memorial orchard was funded by private donations to the Sandy Hook Memorial Tree Fund and a grant from the Iroquois Pipeline Community Grant Program, noted Guy Peterson, who is in charge of membership, donations, and land donations for NFA.

"Daniel approached the NFA looking for a way he could help his community with a meaningful and lasting project. The NFA has a backlog of such projects and we suggested several, and the kiosk project at the Nettleton Memorial Orchard appealed to him," Mr Peterson said.

"Having been a former scout leader and strong supporter of the Scouting program for its strong leadership development program and civic awareness, myself and the NFA values the efforts of all Scouting projects and is especially proud to have multiple opportunities for Eagle Scout candidates to help NFA with its mission," Mr Peterson said. "The NFA hopes this new kiosk will educate the visitors as to the importance that this preserve has to our community. The NFA also hope our visitors learn that the NFA's preserves are not owned or managed by the town, and that the NFA is nonprofit organization that is funded solely by private donations and grants."

The NFA has informational kiosks at several of its preserves throughout town that share information about the history of the preserve, the NFA, and its mission as both  Newtown's largest private land trust and the oldest land trust in Connecticut, as well as trail maps and preserve rules and restrictions, Mr Peterson said.

"The NFA identified this location to create such a living memorial and restored a historical orchard and in the fall of 2015 planted 26 flowering apple trees and 2,000 daffodils. Our first spring bloom was an amazing display of color as you turned the corner going up Church Hill Road," Mr Peterson said.

"As a family, we spend a lot of time hiking together," said Jennifer Reilly, mother of Daniel and Conrad.

Ms Reilly is impressed with the level of volunteer work in town and how it has spilled over into the Boy Scouts.

"Newtown has a real culture of volunteerism and I think it's really great that it's taken shape through the Boy Scouts as well," Ms Reilly said.

Ms Reilly notes that Scouts throughout town hand out coffee on Memorial Day, and help with the process of collecting and delivering gifts through social workers around the holidays, for example.

"It's been pretty fun being in Scouts. Some of my closest friends I met in Scouts and stayed friends with them through high school," Daniel said. "A lot of it is hard work but there's still a lot of fun involved."

A Gift To Society

Newtown has six troops, and each has young children and teenagers working to help their community while having fun socializing with friends. Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra has worked on proclamations for Scouts each of the past several years and is impressed by their accomplishments and the quantity.

"It's definitely a win-win. Certainly our community benefits from Scout projects and initiatives," said Ms Llodra, adding that the Scouts are doing great work along the way.

"I think the most substantial benefit is in the character development of so many people who come from Newtown," said Mrs Llodra, adding that the Scouts eventually venture off into other part of the state as well as throughout the country and bring that character along with them.

"I think that's a gift to all of society," Mrs Llodra said. "It's very noteworthy for our community."

Scouts must earn 21 merit badges and achieve a half-dozen ranks on their way to earning Eagle status. The badges include first aid, camping, emergency preparedness, and cooking, Conrad notes.

Mr Almeter said so many Scouts earning their Eagle rank around the same time is partly the result of several friends joining Scouts together and developing friendly competition, pushing each other to achieve higher ranks.

"A lot of it is parent involvement," Mr Almeter adds.

Mr Almeter, an Eagle Scout himself, took over as scoutmaster a year and a half ago, and inherited an active program, he said. Mr Almeter has two children in Boy Scouts, Alec and Aidan.

Boys learn about leadership and are put into a position to lead adults, often for the first time in their lives, Mr Almeter said.

Among this year's Eagle Scout projects in Troop 370 were scraping and painting dry hydrants for Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue Company, and teaching residents at Newtown Senior Center to use computers, including e-mail.

"The NFA could not be more proud of Daniel and all of the other Eagle Scout candidates that have completed community service projects on our behalf in the past. The impacts these projects have are a testament to the community service values of Scouting, and particularly these individuals," Mr Peterson said.

Daniel Reilly, left, is working on his Eagle Scout project, overseeing the creation of a kiosk at Newtown Forest Association's Nettleton Memorial Orchard. His brother, Conrad, right, recently did his project, overseeing the making of a storage shed for the LOF Adaptive Skiers. (Bee Photo, Hutchison)
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