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Boy Scouts of America

Emma Larsen's mother, Megan, is heading up Troop 355 in Setauket. Photo from Troop 355
Audrey Larsen’s mother, Megan, has started Troop 355 in Setauket. Audrey is currently in Cub Scouts. Photo from Troop 355

It’s been more than a year since the Boy Scouts of America became Scouts BSA, inviting girls to join separate, gender-specific units and earn the Eagle Scout rank. Since then female troop units have been popping up along the North Shore.

In the Three Village area, Setauket mom Megan Larsen recently established Troop 355. She said the number is a nod to the famous Culper Spy Ring as “355” was the code for lady. It’s believed the spies used 355 in code to refer to Anna Strong Smith who reportedly hung clothes on a line to send signals to those in the spy ring.

“It’s just a nod to our district and to our local history,” the troop leader said.

Larsen’s 13-year-old daughter Emma belonged to BSA girl unit Troop 2019 in Sound Beach when the family lived in Mount Sinai. When they moved to Setauket at the end of June, they continued with the unit, but Larsen said it was difficult to keep up with the drive with schoolwork and other activities. 

Larsen said the BSA community is tight knit, and she has been receiving a lot of help from other troop leaders. Her husband, Eric, who grew up in Setauket, was involved with the local Boy Scout Troop 70 for years and was even a Venturing crew leader. He would take Emma to meetings, and when she was a toddler, she even had a Troop 70 T-shirt.

“It was sort of foreshadowing,” Megan Larsen said.

What does it take to start an all-girls BSA troop? The 355 troop leader said once a prospective leader goes to the BSA council to file paperwork and it’s approved, it’s then up to the leader to invite the community to join. On Feb. 23, she held an open house to introduce girls to the organization, and said they received a lot of help from Troop 70. Many local units, both boys and girls, also joined them in last year’s Three Village Electric Holiday Parade.

When her daughters, who include 8-year-old Audrey, showed an interest in the BSA, their mother decided to have them join. Her 10-year-old son Peter is a Cub Scout.

“I saw the positive impact that it had on my husband’s life,” she said, adding she was especially impressed with the friendships formed and public-speaking skills the boys gained.

Sound Beach Troop 2019 at a gathering earlier in the year. Photo from Troop 2019

While Emma has belonged to the Girl Scouts, Larsen said Scouts BSA was a better fit for her daughter who loves whittling, kayaking and camping.

Larsen said she can understand how teenage girls may be hesitant to join something until they see their peers are a part of it.

“It’s new, and I think a lot of times girls are a little hesitant because they don’t know it’s out there, or they want to see other girls doing it first,” she said.

Troop leader Ann Colletta from Sound Beach Troop 2019 said she was on board with the idea of girls in the Scouts since it was announced. She currently has 11 girls in her unit, and she sits on the committee in her district.

“I thought it was a great idea,” she said. “I had my reservations at first because I wasn’t sure how it would work out.”

She said once she learned more about it she realized it was what her daughter June had been wanting.

Colletta said while it may seem like a leap of faith to start up a girl unit, she agreed with Larsen that other leaders, as well as boy units, have been helpful. She added when her troop originally started, it was the boys in BSA who taught the girls different skills and were welcoming and helpful.

“My girls are learning from them, and when younger girls come in the girls can teach them,” Colletta said.

The mother of seven children, who has experience with both BSA and Girl Scouts of the USA, said her 12-year-old daughter, who is also a GSA member, wanted to do the same things as her 17-year-old brother Peter, who become an Eagle Scout. Colletta said she knows what BSA can do for children as her son was shy, and she has watched him blossom.

Kings Park Troop 539G will will celebrate its first anniversary this month. Photo from Troop 539G

“We’re outdoor oriented,” Colletta said. “She wanted to do the same thing as him, go to summer camps and go camping.”

Craig Rome, who heads up Troop 539G in Kings Park, said he’s always willing to help other troop leaders and has found many to be helpful in spreading the word about the female units.

His girl unit, which has 17 members, will celebrate its first anniversary April 15, even though a celebration is on hold until after the current COVID-19 pandemic is over.

Like Colletta, he has found that many of the girls enjoy the outdoor activities that BSA offers. He said in addition to outdoor events, the Scouts offer community service opportunities, first-aid skills, archery and more, as well as foster leadership. Meetings are led by the Scouts themselves, and he feels it’s great to have the girls exposed to the same leadership roles as the boys, adding that young women can be part of both the BSA and GSA like his daughter Emma who started in Girl Scouts.

Since she has joined BSA, he said he has noticed a difference in his daughter, watching her now  encouraged to take on leadership roles. 

“I think she enjoys leadership,” he said.

Rome said that, at first, they had four or five girls, siblings of boys already in the male unit. But after putting announcements out in the school, more girls joined, and he said he thinks there was a pent-up demand. Now after seeing the impact it’s had on these children, he said he wished the BSA had done it sooner, and when people ask him if he thinks BSA works for girls, he said he finds it does.

Troop 218G is based in Melville. Photo from Troop 218G

“The energy level that these girls have is incredible,” he said. “It really put a smile on your face when you saw them get together and form the troop.”

Tammy Campagnola-Levinsky has also had a positive experience as a troop leader. Since last year, 218G in Melville has grown from five to 13, and her 18-year-old daughter, Summer, who had wanted to become one since she was 7 years old is one of the Scouts.

Campagnola-Levinsky said one opportunity the girls have is an extension to become an Eagle Scout, which is also offered to the boys. Usually, a Scout must achieve the rank by 17 but an extension can be requested. 

Like many girls, her daughter has become involved in activities such as camping, meeting elected officials and traveling since joining BSA, something she may not have done outside of the organization. Her daughter has also become involved in BSA’s National Youth Leadership Training.

“It’s her passion,” the troop leader said. “It’s her driving force.”

Since there’s such a lack of these all-female troops, Troop 218G has members from Nassau County and the South Shore. Rome and Campagnola-Levinsky said every Scout, whether a boy or girl, should visit different units to see how they operate since each unit can have a different style or focus. Campagnola-Levinsky pointed out that sometimes members of a Cub Scout Pack may even go on to different units.

“Scouting to me is one of the life lessons that you will take all the way through adulthood and it just doesn’t apply to scouting but your life forward — family, friends, job,” Campagnola-Levinsky said. “So, the skills you learn are lifetime skills, and you want them to be comfortable in the environment they are in and like the unit they are with.”

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Boy Scouts of America Troop 161 assist in creating the new memorial garden in honor of Andrew McMorris. Photo by Jane Sherman

The field in front of the Robert S. Reid Recreation Center in Shoreham was marked by red, the red shirts of Boys Scouts’ uniforms and red ribbons, which residents know has become a symbol for remembrance and an icon for bringing the community together.

Boy Scouts of America Troop 161 is continuing their honoring of Andrew McMorris, a young troop member who was killed by a drunk driver in October of last year, by creating a new garden in front of the community center where they have hosted their meetings for years.

Red dogwood tree planted in honor of McMorris. Photo by Jane Sherman

In October, after the horrific event, the Girl Scouts of America donated a red dogwood tree to the McMorris family, which troop 161 planted in front of the center, adorning it with tiny ribbons. In an effort to remember young Andrew, the troop promised it would build a memorial garden around that tree. 

Boy Scout Joseph Pozgay made it his Eagle Scout project to lay memorial bricks in front of the garden, while other troop members laid plantings in the ground, all of which were donated by the community. 

Jane Sherman, the committee chair of Troop 161, said they plan to host a dedication for the garden sometime in the near future.

The Boy Scouts Suffolk County Council is still fundraising to create a new Adirondack Cabin at Baiting Hollow Scout Camp. People can donate to Troop 161 at www.troop161shoreham.org/ and support Andrew McMorris Foundation at www.andrewmcmorrisfoundation.org/.

New state laws and prevention education for parents, children and professionals aim to eliminate childhood sexual abuse. Photo by New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

Decades-old records show that North Shore children have fallen prey to sexual predators, whether it’s been while in the Boy Scouts or church groups or perhaps even in a family setting.  But new laws, combined with education, are shifting the social paradigm, and the experts say that people need to take a more active position to prevent childhood sexual abuse.

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the Child Victims Act in January, which takes effect in June. The law essentially aims to institute more sensitivity toward victims, while holding perpetrators accountable. It raises the statute of limitations for victims from 18 to 23 years of age, so victims can file criminal charges in adulthood. For civil charges, victims have until the age of 55 to file charges against the offender.

Stephen Forrester and Annie Costello are with The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, an organization that is playing a leading role toward change. Forrester, a former prosecutor with 28 years of experience addressing child abuse, successfully lobbied for better laws for the last four years, while Costello has been part of a new evidence-based program, funded by the National Institutes of Health that trains and educates professionals as well as the general public on how to prevent child sexual abuse.

“It’s everyone’s responsibility — adults, organizations, parents, children,” said Costello. “Parents need to teach children how to keep their bodies safe.” 

Assaults thrive in a culture of secrecy, she said, and when adults aren’t talking about it at home it’s harder to prevent. In order to stop child sexual abuse in the future that veil of secrecy needs to be removed.

This often requires that adults overcome their own anxieties about the topic.

Access and opportunity, two factors that underlie abuse scenarios

One in five people, by the time they’re 18 years old, become victims of childhood sexual assault, according to Costello and her organization. Rather than strangers, the society finds that 90 percent of the time the perpetrators are people a child knows and trusts.

“It can be difficult to believe that a beloved uncle, favorite coach, or respected clergy member could abuse a child,” Forrester said. “Perpetrators can be very charming, manipulative and believable.”

Offenses typically occur in scenarios where adults are entrusted with the care of children without the supervision of parents. Whether its music lessons, Scouting groups, sports clubs or schools or churches, parents need to ask up front to review the organizations policies and practices. Every organization, Costello said, should have information available on both its background screening process for its volunteers or workers and its policies for handling abuse.

“Offenders are very skilled at building relationships with kids.”

— Annie Costello

Otherwise, the society has identified red flag behaviors of child molesters known as “grooming.” People should become concerned when adults repeatedly ignore boundaries and single out one child, Costello said. Secrecy or secret conversations are also warning signs to which parents and other adults should respond.  

“Trust your instincts,” Costello said. “Offenders are very skilled at building relationships with kids.”

Prevention education, Costello said, is very nuanced. In general, the society’s motto is: If you see something, say something. Depending on the context of the situation, a person can address the behavior with the person doing the behavior, alert officials at the youth serving organization, report it to child protective services or call the police.

“You want to say something until the behavior is stopped and resolved and the child is safe,” Costello said. “Always err on the side of child safety.”

Removing the veil of secrecy

Parent’s conversation with children on the topic should be casual, routine and centered on body safety.

“Kids should understand about voice and choice,” Costello said. “We teach the children that any part of the body covered by a bathing suit is private.” Her organization has developed age-appropriate programs for children as young as kindergartners.

One step that the society recommends is that parents always use the proper name for genitalia (e.g., penis, vagina) with their children, so if a child discloses being touched sexually, the risk of misunderstanding what the child is saying can be minimized.

The society developed its evidence-based program, entitled Safe Touches: Personal Safety Training for Children, with funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Trust and believe a child

It’s very important, both Costello and Forrester said, that children be believed and supported, when they disclose having been abused. It’s also important to never fault a child for the abuse.

“Children may not disclose [sexual abuse] for many reasons including being told by the perpetrator that they won’t be believed, that they will get in trouble, or that the abuse was the child’s fault,” Forrester said. “Children can be ashamed to say anything or may be afraid of the perpetrator.”

Some children immediately disclose abuse, while others don’t disclose it until adulthood; Forrester said many people never disclose the abuse.

Legally, window of opportunity opens

New York is among the first states in the nation to support new childhood sexual assault laws. Victims of any age will have a one-year window of opportunity to file civil charges beginning in August.

Victims can reach out to the county’s bar association for referral to a qualified attorney who can evaluate their case, Forrester said.  The Suffolk County Bar Association website is www.scba.org. The telephone number is 631-234-5551.

“Children can be ashamed to say anything or may be afraid of the perpetrator.”

— Stephen Forrester

For people seeking counseling, the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline is dedicated to the prevention of child abuse. Serving the U.S. and Canada, the hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with professional crisis counselors who — through interpreters — provide assistance in over 170 languages. The hotline offers crisis intervention, information and referrals to thousands of emergency, social service and support resources. All calls are confidential. The telephone number is 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453. The website is www.childhelp.org/hotline/

To arrange for prevention education, people can contact [email protected]

Stephen Forrester’s name was incorrect in the May 2 edition of the Times of Smithtown and Times of Huntington & Northport. It has been corrected in this version. This post has also been amended to revise the time victims can use to file charges.

Aidan Donnelly, an Eagle Scout from Troop 362 in Selden, spearheaded a project to have fishing line resource recovery/recycling containers installed near Suffolk County fishing spots . Photo from Aidan Donnelly

By Karina Gerry

A Centereach High School senior and Eagle Scout has dedicated much of his time to protecting Long Island beaches and wildlife.

During a terrapin turtle project, Aidan Donnelly searched, tracked, monitored, measured, weighed and coded turtles to take environmental data and GPS location of the turtles. Photo by Aidan Donnelly

Aidan Donnelly, 17, joined his local Boy Scout troop when he was in fifth grade after he was inspired by his older cousin’s Court of Honor ceremony, the highest rank a Scout can earn. Donnelly saw all the volunteer projects his cousin was involved in and wanted to make a difference as well. Now an Eagle Scout himself, Donnelly has planned and been the leader of four different wildlife projects since 2014.

“I really can’t describe it,” Donnelly said. “I just love seeing my projects make a positive difference. I love seeing the difference I was able to make through my projects and knowing I’ve helped the beach and so many people.”

Donnelly has been volunteering since he was nine years old, when he joined an educational program at West Meadow Beach called Beach Rangers, a program that teaches young kids about West Meadow Beach and the ecosystem there. He credits Beach Rangers and the cleanups he participated in as inspiration for the many wildlife projects he has started.

“I was pretty sad the first time to see how much garbage was left at the beach,” Donnelly said. “Which sort of sparked my interest in wanting to help out. So, I did beach cleanups every year from then on, and once I got into Boys Scouts, I got my troop involved in the cleanup.”

Through his Eagle Scout project, which he completed in 2015, Donnelly led, designed and planned the building and installation of an osprey nest platform at West Meadow Beach, when he was just 13 years old. In order to complete the project, Donnelly had to work with local politicians, such as Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), who recognizes him as a true asset to the community.

“I was pretty sad the first time to see how much garbage was left at the beach.”

— Aidan Donnelly

“Aidan has an obvious sense of loyalty and duty to his community,” Cartright said. “He goes above and beyond in all that he does, and his dedication is reflected in academic honors, high achievements in scouting, and his organization of community activities. In my role as a town council member I have met hundreds of outstanding young people in our community, but Aidan is exceptional even among that elite group.”

Out of the many projects he has been involved in, Donnelly said he felt particularly proud of his most recent one — a fishing line resource recovery/ recycling project that he just completed this past December. The project is a countywide sustainable fishing line recovery and recycling project that is installed at West Meadow Beach, Stony Brook Harbor, Port Jefferson, Caleb Smith State Park Preserve, Deep Pond Conservation Area, Lake Ronkonkoma, South Haven County Park, Bubbles Falls, Rattlesnake Brook near Oakdale and West Brook Pond. The project required Donnelly to work with many outside sources, such as community members and an out-of-state recycling facility.

“I needed to find somewhere that would take the line and recycle it,” Donnelly said, “rather than it ending up in the trash or in landfills. I did find a Midwest company, and they sent me postage-paid shipping boxes to give to the organizations.”

Bill Schwalback, scoutmaster of Donnelly’s BSA Troop 362, has known him since 2016 when his son joined the troop where Donnelly was serving as troop guide. He has seen the growth and drive of the 17-year-old since then and notes that Donnelly has always jumped on the opportunity to take on a leadership role and enjoys passing on his knowledge to others.

“Aidan does not deflect an opportunity to teach others,” Schwalback said. “He thrives on the ability to share his knowledge and his passion with others, and it is great to see a young adult fill with pride when he sees something to completion and knows that it will make a difference to the targeted population or species.”

A man allegedly driving while intoxicated struck several Boy Scouts from a Shoreham-based troop Sunday while they were walking on David Terry Road in Manorville, killing one, according to police.

Thomas Murphy. Photo from SCPD

Thomas Murphy was driving a 2016 Mercedes southbound on David Terry Road at approximately 1:55 p.m. Sept. 30 when his vehicle struck a group of Boys Scouts who were walking northbound on the shoulder of the roadway. Five scouts, from Troop 161 of the Boys Scouts of America, ranging in age from 12 to 16, were struck by the vehicle. One of the scouts was transported via Suffolk County Police helicopter to Stony Brook University Hospital and the other four were transported to Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead.

Andrew McMorris, 12, of Wading River, died from his injuries sustained during the incident, according to police Oct. 1. He was initially transported to Peconic Bay Medical Center in critical condition, then was ultimately transported via Suffolk County Police helicopter to Stony Brook University Hospital. Thomas Lane, 15, of Shoreham, was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital where he is being treated for serious injuries. Denis Lane, 16, Shoreham, Kaden Lynch, 15, of Calverton, and Matthew Yakaboski, 15, of Calverton, sustained non-life-threatening injuries.

Murphy, 59, of Holbrook, was charged with driving while intoxicated. He will be held overnight at the 7th Precinct and was scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip Oct. 1.

Detectives are asking anyone who may have witnessed this incident to call the Major Case Unit at 631-852-6555 or anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220 TIPS. Attorney information for Murphy was not immediately available.

Matthew Seyfert, right, approached his pastor Chuck Van Houten about his Eagle Scout project, constructing blessing boxes, for local churches. Van Houten reached out to other pastors to see if other houses of worship would be interested in receiving one. Photo from Dave Seyfert

By Rita J. Egan

Blessings have been popping up more and more at churches in the Three Village area thanks to a Stony Brook Eagle Scout.

Matthew Seyfert recently achieved the rank right before his 18th birthday. The Ward Melville senior completed a project where he and other Scouts assembled seven wood structures like the Little Free Libraries found all over Long Island. Called a blessing box, Seyfert said the cabinets will provide spots at seven local churches where congregants can add an item that may be needed by others. The member of Setauket Troop 70 said he completed his project just in time, since boys have until they turn 18 to reach the pinnacle of the program.

Blessing boxes during assembly. Each Scout had a different job during the project including painting and drilling. Photo from Dave Seyfert

“It felt really good, because even though I was a little pressed for time when I started my project, I tried to pick a project that I really didn’t do as a requirement just for completion,” he said. “[It’s] something that would have a larger impact on my community. It meant a lot to me.”

The Eagle Scout said he was watching the news when he heard about a blessing box in Texas, and thought it was a good idea to create a cabinet for his own place of worship, Stony Brook Community Church, among others. The Scout said church members typically fill the cabinet with items like school supplies at the beginning of the academic year, and socks and gloves or nonperishables in the winter.

When he approached the Rev. Chuck Van Houten, Seyfert said the pastor of Stony Brook Community Church was enthusiastic about the project, and reached out to other church leaders through the Three Village Interfaith Clergy group to see who else would be interested in one.

Van Houten said he was impressed with Seyfert’s endeavor, but added he wasn’t surprised, noting how involved the high school senior has been in the church, and the leadership qualities he possesses.

“I thought it was a great idea, especially since one of the main missions or ministries of our church right now is feeding people in the local school district,” the pastor said.

“I thought it was a great idea, especially since one of the main missions or ministries of our church right now is feeding people in the local school district.”

— Rev. Chuck Van Houten

Once a month church members purchase food for a local food pantry, according to Van Houten, who said the Stony Brook Community Church box will mainly be used to house nonperishables. He said the best part is that people can drop off or pick up items every day, all day, unlike a pantry where dates and times can be limited. In the next few weeks, the Seyferts will join Van Houten in finding a place in front of the church for the blessing box, and he hopes that all community members will use it in the future.

Seyfert said while a few church councils were concerned maintaining a blessing Box may be a big responsibility, he explained it would be on a stand and easy to move, adding it’s up to the congregation what they want to fill them with and how often.

The Scout’s father, Dave, said he was proud of his son for coming up with the idea, especially because financial situations can change dramatically with sickness or job loss, and said the need is greater than many would think in the Three Village area. The pair put together a prototype back in November before moving forward.

“I thought it was a well thought out project and well executed,” David Seyfert said.

The Rev. Gregory Leonard of Bethel AME Church in Setauket stands in front of the church’s blessing box. Photo from Dave Seyfert

Matthew Seyfert said future Eagle Scouts need to supervise the projects more than build them, so he got together some fellow Scouts and gave each boy a job based on age. While some did prep-work, others painted and others drilled. His father said local businesses Ace Hardware in Setauket, Riverhead Building Supply, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Omega Moulding Company donated supplies. Seyfert decided they would have roofs in colors that matched each church, after Setauket Presbyterian Church asked what color the boxes would be.

They’ve been placed at six locations so far, including Stony Brook Community Church, Setauket Presbyterian, Bethel AME Church, Caroline Church of Brookhaven, All Souls Episcopal Church and Setauket United Methodist Church. The Scout said he hopes to find a home for the seventh one in the near future. He said he has mixed feelings about the project being over.

“It was a relief, but it was also kind of sad because we were working on it for so long, that it was weird to not be focused on it,” Seyfert said. “But it felt really good to now finally implement them.”

The Eagle Scout project has left him with some advice for other boys looking to achieve the feat.

“Choose something you’re interested in so it’s not as much work,” Seyfert said. “Also, start early. It’s a lot of planning. You really can’t start without planning.”

Northport Boy Scout Troop 410 held event to raise funds for the Ecumenical Lay Council Food Pantry

By Karen Forman

Hundreds gathered March 18 to brave the icy cold waters off Steers Beach for the 9th annual Polar Bear Swim. Traditionally held on New Year’s Day, this year’s polar plunge had to be rescheduled for the day after St. Patrick’s Day; the water was a sheet of ice back in January.

The event is run by Northport Boy Scout Troop 410, who donate all the money raised from this event and the pancake breakfast held earlier in the month to the Ecumenical Lay Council Food Pantry in Northport. 

Last year, the Boy Scouts raised more than $5,000 for the food pantry, and they are hoping to top that this year. The final total of participants’ donations was not available as of Monday morning.  Those still interested in donating can visit https://troop410swim.com. 

This post was updated at 3:43 p.m March 19. 

 

Eagle Scout John Ninia stands by the dogwood trees he planted at Frank Melville Memorial Park. Photo from Jerry Ninia

For one Eagle Scout, earning coveted merit badges has been more than a pastime; it’s been a mission. The undertaking has led him to earn all 137 badges a Scout can receive — an accomplishment only 6 percent of scouts in the nation have achieved, according to the Boy Scouts of America website.

John Ninia, of Poquott, a senior at Ward Melville High School, moved up from Cub Scout to Boy Scout when he was 11 years old. Ninia said it took him six years to earn all 137 badges. A scout needs 21 badges to become an Eagle Scout — 16 being mandatory ones.

“I just went for all of them,” the Troop 70 Eagle Scout said.

When he was 12 years old, Ninia said he attended Boy Scout camp, where his mission to collect every badge first became his goal.

John Ninia, an Eagle Scout in Troop 70, proudly wears his 137 badges. Photo from Jerry Ninia

“I remember after my first week of summer camp, I was on my way home and I was really thrilled,” he said. “Usually you can get five badges if you’re really into it but I got about 11, and my parents mentioned that I could go back for a second week.”

Ninia said he immediately signed up for the second week, and when he earned 20 badges that summer, he said it was a great feeling. The Scout said some merit badges, such as one for art, can take a day and a half, while personal fitness, family life and other badges require more time, even months. He said a scuba badge took several days of training to earn certification, while achieving the water skiing one was the most difficult, but he kept trying until he could stand up on the skis.

Ninia completed three Hornaday projects, which are tasks that involve the environment. He eliminated invasive knotweed, a Japanese plant, at West Meadow Beach, planted trees at Frank Melville Memorial Park and installed a rain garden in the Village of Poquott’s California Park. Working to improve the environment is a passion of his, and he plans to major in environmental studies in college.

Frank Melville Memorial Foundation Park Board President Robert Reuter said Ninia worked diligently to clear a substantial vine-choked area adjacent to the Bates House in the park. His work saved existing trees and allowed for the planting of several native white flowering dogwoods.

“It’s revealing of his commitment that I get calls from John offering to continue the work,” Reuter said. “This young man has a bright future underpinned by his extraordinary personal achievements and service to community.”

Robert Mandell, who was Ninia’s troop leader for the majority of the time he has been in Boy Scouts, said he remembers the teenager coming to him telling him how he earned badges for various activities such as glass blowing and concrete mixing. The former troop leader he said he would question him at length about what he did to earn the badge.

“I quizzed them like the FBI,” Mandell said.

He said he wasn’t surprised when Ninia earned every badge, saying he is a smart, hardworking teenager.

“This young man is driven,” the former troop leader said.

While the experiences earning the badges have provided great memories for Ninia, he said what he has enjoyed most during his Scouting years has been “providing leadership to a group of scouts and helping them with their own ability to rank up.”

“This young man has a bright future underpinned by his extraordinary personal achievements and service to community.”

— Robert Reuter

Despite a busy schedule with school, the cross-country team and DECA, Ninia said it’s important to make time for Scouting.

The high school senior said one can no longer be a scout after 18, but while his days as a scout may be over soon, he hopes to always be a part of the organization in some way, even though he’s not sure about being a troop leader.

“It’s hard, and I do have a lot of stuff and I’m a busy guy, but Scouting is something I’ve loved so I’ve always been able to make time for it,” he said. His advice to other Scouts? “Try your best and shoot for the stars.”

Ninia’s father Jerry said the family, which includes mom Lynn and siblings James and Christina, is proud of their Scout and his accomplishments.

“He’s a good kid,” his father said. “He works very hard He perseveres. He has a can-do attitude. He’s just the kind of guy that makes things happen.”

Achieving merit badges makes a Scout a more well-rounded individual, according to Jerry Ninia.

“When you think about it, 137 merit badges, it touches on everything from art to architecture to woodworking to metalworking to horseback riding to law and medicine to water sports and everything in between,” he said. “You can probably strike up a conversation with anyone as a young adult and speak to anyone from practically any walk of life because you’ll probably feel some commonality.”