She may not wear a cape or cowl, but 17-year-old Kaileigh Blessing is serving as a hero to the Village of Shoreham by bringing more environment-boosting bats to the area.
Blessing, a senior at Rocky Point High School and member of Venturing Crew 777, a co-ed youth development program of the Boy Scouts of America, has spent the last year designing, funding, building and installing seven bat houses throughout Shoreham.
The houses are to be installed in parklands along Woodville Road and private properties. It is a project constructed in Blessing’s pursuit of her Summit Award — the Venturing Crew’s highest program-level award. She became involved in the project in October 2016 when members of The Shoreham Village Association launched a subcommittee to expand the number of bat houses hanging in public as a way to coax more of the nocturnal animals into the area.
While they once carried a reputation as fearsome creatures, the public perception of bats has changed drastically in recent years as they have been proven to greatly benefit the ecosystem of their surroundings by eating thousands of small insects per hour — including the ever-increasing population of disease-carrying mosquitoes.
Shoreham, like the rest of Long Island, has lost a majority of these more environmentally friendly bug eliminators due to an increased use of dangerous pesticides and the spread of white nose syndrome, a fungus that grows on and kills hibernating bats along the East Coast.
“Bat houses are needed everywhere,” said Laura Miller, a member of the association’s subcommittee and one of the recipients of Blessing’s bat houses. “The bat population in general has decreased drastically and it’s a real concern, agriculturally, especially for farmers. Bats are generally very beneficial and people don’t realize it because of the whole nature of what they think a bat is.”
During last year’s October meeting, members of the subcommittee held a raffle drawing for the houses to be built and installed for two village residents and, in figuring out who should be the one to take on the project, the idea to involve a local Boy Scout troop and expand the number of houses came up. Through Venturing Advisor Tom Seda, Blessing was proposed as a fitting candidate as she wasn’t too interested in the more traditional routes of building a park bench or installing a garden for her final project.
“I wanted to build something that was a bit more impactful environmentally, so I gratefully took up that
offer,” Blessing said. “I’m so glad I went with this and I’m looking forward to coming back and hopefully hear from the women of the association that the bats have returned.”
The Venturer, who first joined the youth-powered organization when she was 14, dove into the project with “gusto,” according to subcommittee members. She raised funds for construction materials by recycling scrap metal and bottles and pledging for donations at various businesses like Home Depot and Benjamin Moore, where she received paint, stains, lumber, drills and screws. With the help of her dad and a group of friends, Blessing spent hours on weekends building the large, single-chamber habitats — each one large enough to house 20 to 50 brown bats — which contains a ventilation area for warm air to filter out and grooves in its back panels to act as grips when the bats fly and grab onto the house.
She also scouted locations for the houses in the village and sought out PMM Landscaping, a Middle Island-based group, to mount them on trees. She is currently designing a bat house information kiosk that she hopes will be installed at Major Hopkins Park in Shoreham.
“I really didn’t know anything about bats when I started this, but through research and everything, I just find it all really intriguing and interesting now,” she said.
Jean Jordan Sweet, chair of the subcommittee, commended Blessing for her tenacity throughout the strenuous project. Sweet said she met with the subcommittee several times throughout the year, made presentations, and had to wait on approvals from the village board of trustees and the Suffolk County Council of Boy Scouts every step of the way.
“She’s very impressive,” Sweet said. “She had to go through so much authorization and processes for this project, but she’s a real self-starter and took this very seriously.”
While her project, and Summit Award, still needs to be fully approved by the Scouts, which might take several months, the association will present a summary report and recognize Blessing’s efforts during an event Nov. 11.