Boy Scouts make service to community top priority

From planting milkweed along the Monarch Trail to building cabinets for a food pantry, local Boy Scouts have taken on many daunting projects that have bettered Wauwatosa and surrounding communities.

A fresh crop of boys in pursuit of the Eagle Scout rank continued the hard work last year. Thirteen Wauwatosa Scouts made Eagle Scout in 2008 and that number looks like it will be repeated this year, according to the Boy Scouts of America Milwaukee County Council.

To earn the organization's top rank, a boy must take on a significant project, typically one that requires about 25 hours of planning, 100 hours of work and the recruitment of volunteers and donors, according to the National Eagle Scout Association. The work must benefit a deserving nonprofit organization, but beyond that, Scouts are given a lot of liberty when deciding what they would like to tackle.

Projects play to interests

Many Wauwatosa Scouts choose projects that allow them to be active in the outdoors.

Eric Haas helped restore a 10,000-square-foot portion of the Menomonee River Parkway leading into the Village. Work entailed cutting back invasive buckthorn, treating the area with herbicide, spreading seed mix and planting more than 30 species of native plants.

"One woman who attends my church frequently walks that path," Haas said. "She thanked me because she said opening up the area made her feel a lot more secure."

Evan Lynch helped out the Charles Jacobus Park Neighborhood Association by planting grasses that will keep geese from entering and polluting the park pond, a problem that has killed other wildlife.

A day's work and 1,000 plants later, the project also improved the area's aesthetics.

"The neighborhood association president said this is something they've been wanting to get done for some time," Lynch said.

Small construction projects serve as another popular choice among those looking to earn the Eagle rank. Willie Rohrer built benches for the garden areas at several Wauwatosa grade schools, and Ian Haegele created shelving and customized closets to preserve many of the Wauwatosa Historical Society's artifacts.

Scouts learn from experience

While the community benefits from the Scouts' efforts, the service projects also teach teenage boys a thing or two about responsibility, teamwork, leadership, organization and follow-through, said Jonathan Gray, a Wauwatosa resident who achieved the status of Eagle Scout this spring.

"Some of the skills needed to attain Eagle Scout will help you all through life," he said. "It gives you a great sense of accomplishment to finish a project of this size."

Gray gathered underwear, socks and nonperishable food for the Milwaukee Rescue Mission.

For aspiring Eagle Scout Kyle Manske, collecting books for Children's Hospital of Wisconsin was a way to help other children receive a little of the care he himself benefited from in his youth.

At one point in time, he had to spend three days a week at the hospital for speech and language therapy.

"Those people helped me so much," he said. "They helped make me what I am today."

While waiting for his appointments, he read books he found on a cart in the clinic. If he wasn't finished with the story by the time his name was called, he took the book home with him.

"With everyone taking home the books and keeping them, they run out of a lot of books."

By holding a book drive - a project that included making speeches about his efforts during local church services, he was able to gather 7,000 titles. That will not only replenish the cart at that clinic but make books available to children getting treatment in other areas of the hospital.

Collections a common theme

Many Eagle Scout candidates conduct collections because it gets many people involved and does not require a large financial investment, local Scoutmasters said.

It is a lot of work, though. Just ask Sam Salkin, who collected, inspected, disinfected and re-laced more than 1,400 pairs of shoes for the Milwaukee Rescue Mission, or Kegian Fox, who delivered more than 13,000 articles of clothing to the Salvation Army.

"Because I had so much, they basically had to open up another loading dock," he said.

He placed collection bins at local businesses, churches and schools and handed out donation bags to about 300 homes in his neighborhood. At Salvation Army headquarters, he lined up the volunteers so they could pass piles of clothes down a line from vans to the facility.

"I learned that people are so giving, and they're really looking out for one another," Fox said.