At a time when boys have more extracurricular choices than ever and more demands from school, more nationwide are choosing to become Eagle Scouts, the Boy Scouts of America’s highest achievement. The 2015 class nationwide was the fourth largest class ever — more than 54,00 achieved that rank, which represents about 6.57 percent of eligible scouts.
Locally, Capital Area Council also has seen its numbers rising. Last year, 383 scouts in the council’s 15 counties became Eagle Scouts. The council saw a bump in Eagle Scouts around its centennial in 2012, with 443 new Eagle Scouts that year. Since then the numbers have stayed close to 400. The decade before, only about 300 local boys were becoming Eagle Scouts each year.
Nationally, Boy Scouts celebrated a centennial in 2010, which added to those numbers.
Charles Mead, who is the director of marketing and public relations for the local council and himself an Eagle Scout, says the goal of Boy Scouts is more than creating Eagle Scouts. “By the time they finish being involved in our program, they are a little more adept in how do you reach those goals. They are more self-secure, have more leadership skills, they’ve thought about what kind of person they want to become. It’s about character development. … We’re trying to produce people to grow into better citizens.”
But, he says, “If they become an Eagle Scout, that’s fantastic.”
Eagle Scout is something to put on college applications and resumes. If you have have earned Eagle Scout rank or a Girl Scout Gold Award, you can enter the military a rank ahead of someone without that designation.
“Business owners say when they see somebody put Eagle Scout on their college or job application, it might not get you admitted or get you the job, but it gets you past the first step,” Mead says. “This is somebody who you can take seriously, who will get the job done.”
To become an Eagle Scout, boys, beginning around sixth grade, move through the different ranks leading up to Eagle and earn at least 21 merit badges. Of those badges, 13 are specifically required; the other eight can be chosen to reflect a boy’s personal interests. Merit badges cover things like emergency preparedness, environmental science, communication, first aid, personal fitness, swimming and more.
“It’s everything you need to be successful in life,” Mead says.
After that work is complete, they do a project that has to benefit a community group, school or religious institution. Many projects involve building something like a garden or a fitness area. Scouts have to plan and develop the project, including raising all of the funding and recruiting and organizing volunteers to do the project. Everything has to be completed before they turn 18, though there are special circumstances where that has been extended.
Many projects involve about 300 hours of volunteer hours to get done, including the scout’s own hours. There is no minimum number of hours required, though. By the time they start work on their own project, they likely have helped other scouts with their projects, too.
Potential Eagle Scouts have to get the project approved before they start. A committee at the unit level (a smaller group within the council where the boy and his troop belong) makes sure the project meets the requirements, is feasible and has safety issues addressed, and that the action steps for the future plan are included in detail and that the scout is on the right track to getting it finished. Ultimately, an Eagle Scout presents the project to five different levels, including the scoutmaster, the unit committee, the organization it will benefit, the council’s board of review and the national advancement team.
“There’s a learning experience there,” Mead says. “It’s not enough to have a good idea, but you also have to convince others.”
The program requires a lot of adult volunteers to get scouts past the initial requirements and help them make sure they have thought of everything to get their project approved. Yes, there’s probably some parental nudging going on, too, but the program is designed for boys to work with adults other than their parents, even if their parent is the scoutmaster.
How long it takes to complete the project and get it approved varies. Some boys can do it in a couple of months. Others it takes about a year. Mead says, usually where kids trip up is not having enough depth in planning the fundraising and not understanding exactly what it will take to accomplish the project.
Boys learn good project managing skills: time management, multitasking, leadership, communication and problem solving.
For Israel Quintanilla III, a senior at Gateway College Preparatory School, the project itself wasn’t as difficult as the previous requirements and the paperwork involved. “It takes a long time to get to the project,” he says. “Everything before it is really stressful and takes a lot of energy.
Often, scouts find managing other scouts the most challenging part of the service project.
Quintanilla created an outdoor fitness area for VFW Post 8787. “The hardest part was getting all the scouts focused,” he says. “They were younger and were fairly new to the program. They didn’t know how to take orders correctly. They were messing around.”
By engaging younger boys, Quintanilla was helping to prepare them to possibly do their own Eagle project one day.
Chris Donnell, a Hendrickson High School senior, built raised garden beds for Pflugerville Community Garden. He managed 15 volunteers on the day they were building the gardens, but by the time he had gotten to his project, he had helped many other scouts with their projects. “It’s teaching you how to have leadership effectively,” he says.
Once they earn their Eagle Scout rank, there’s still more they can do. Ryan Beltran, a senior at Westwood High School, completed his project in March 2013. He built a rosary trail at Eagle Wings Retreat Center in Burnet. Now he’s helping teach younger scouts how to earn their merit badges. He returns to Eagle Wings occasionally to do maintenance on the trail.
“It’s a big project looking at it,” he says. “I’m proud to see it again and to know that I had built that.”
Did you become an Eagle Scout?
Send us a photo of your project or receiving the rank to firstname.lastname@example.org.