Above: From left — In August of 2021, Lou Gray, Ciaran Polanski, Charlie Gray, Ted Gray, Paul Kolarczyk, Chris Jacobson, Liam Polanski, Max Pastore, Joseph Boiquaye, Louie Pastore, and Seamus Polanski from Lansing Boy Scout Troop 276 participated in a 50-mile hike through New Mexico mountains. Several of these boys are now Eagle Scouts. (Photo: Louie Pastore)
National Scouts Day is February 8
By Jennifer Yos
LANSING, Ill. (February 7, 2023) – Lansing’s BSA Troop 276 has a long and continuing history of producing Eagle Scouts — Scouts who achieve the highest rank in the Scouts BSA organization. Since 1958, a total of 88 Scouts in Troop 276 have advanced to Eagle rank, 16 of whom earned this distinction within the last five years. Currently five additional Scouts are working on their Eagle service projects, which, when completed, will bring the troop’s total to 93 in its 65-year history.
According to scouting.org, more than 2 million youth have earned Eagle Scout rank since the first Eagle Scout Award was given in 1912. Today all youth between the ages of 11 and 17 may join Scouts BSA, the organization formerly known as Boy Scouts.
Secret to Troop 276’s success
Troop 276 Committee Chair and Eagle Scout Coach Michael Bergin partially credits the troop’s success to constancy in adult leadership: “One of the secrets to [our success] is a lot of our sons are out of Scouting, and we’re still here. So that provides a continuing of leadership.”
Bergin has observed that it is more common for adult leaders to leave their troop positions once their own children have completed their scouting experiences, but a few of the current Troop 276 adult leaders have stayed on years after their own children have left. These long-term adult leaders are now approaching or are in retirement age, which affords them even more time to dedicate their combined knowledge and experience to the troop.
Troop 276’s current adult leadership — along with Committee Chair and Eagle Coach Michael Bergin — include Scoutmaster Kevin Ranos; Scoutmaster Assistant and Advancement Chair Chuck Murach, who has been involved in scouting now for over fifty years and serves as Troop 276 treasurer and filer of records for the National systems; Committee Member David Reyes; Assistant Scoutmaster Adam Warsbaugh; and Assistant Scoutmaster Mike Johnson. The assistant scoutmasters are especially helpful in meeting the Scouts BSA requirement that at least two adult leaders be present and/or included in all leader interactions with Scout members, including meetings, e-mails, phone calls, and texts.
Coach Bergin also credits constancy within families as another factor contributing to Troop 276’s ongoing success. At least four families currently or recently involved in Troop 276 have had more than one family member attain Eagle rank. Within one family alone — the Polanski family — four brothers have earned Eagle Scout rank, and the fifth and youngest brother is currently planning his Eagle service project. Coach Bergin notes that if one family member earns Eagle rank, then often their siblings want to follow, but it is a distinct rarity to have five Eagle Scouts within one family.
How Scouts become Eagle Scouts
A Scout achieves Eagle Scout rank by meeting a number of Scouts BSA requirements, all of which must be completed before the Scout’s 18th birthday — though extensions may be granted in cases of extenuating circumstances beyond the Scout’s control, such as during the COVID pandemic.
According to the official Guide to Advancement 2021 and Eagle Required Merit Badges at scouting.org, Eagle rank requirements include proof of active BSA participation, Scout spirit, at least 21 earned merit badges (14 of which are specific to Eagle rank), a held position of responsibility, a completed service project, and a unit leader conference with the Scoutmaster. A Scout can begin working towards Eagle Scout rank as early as at the age of 11, but most begin their Eagle service projects in their teenage years.
Eagle Scouts and service projects
The service project is the culminating experience for a Scout’s advancement to Eagle rank. It involves an extensive process in which the Scout —
- Chooses a hands-on project that will serve a specific beneficiary
- Writes a proposal
- Researches and plans the project taking all safety issues into consideration
- Communicates with the beneficiary and potential vendors
- Initiates any necessary fundraising
- Manages a budget
- Obtains needed materials and equipment
- Seeks expert advice in problem-solving
- Donates the labor and management necessary to bring the project to completion.
Since service projects are considerable undertakings, Eagle Coach Bergin emphasizes the importance of the Scout being the one to choose the project and its beneficiary:
“Usually we let the Scouts choose something because we find if they’re not vested or interested in it, it’s not quite the feedback. The first thing we usually [ask] is, ‘What are you interested in?’ And then I get lists from the Villas of Lansing, Iron Oaks, … Sand Ridge Nature Center, and I give them to the Scout, and say, ‘You pick.’”
Eagle Scout candidates are fully in charge of their service projects, but they are not alone in the process. They receive volunteer help and advice from Eagle Coach Bergin, from other adult troop leaders, and from fellow Scouts and family members. Coach Bergin stresses the importance of volunteer support within his troop: “I always tell all the Scouts — no matter what age they are — that when we have an Eagle project, become a volunteer because when it’s your turn, you’ll get volunteers. … You have to earn your workforce.”
As they begin the service project process, Eagle Scout candidates also complete a workbook that outlines the proposal and records both initial approval and acceptance by all parties at completion. Once the service project is completed, the Scout submits the workbook and application, and also presents a statement of ambitions and life purpose along with a list of earned positions, honors, and awards, much like one would include in a resume.
With these requirements met, the Eagle Scout appears before a board of review — made up of adult troop leaders — for an interview during which the Scout’s successes, experiences, and future plans are discussed. At the end of the interview, the Scout temporarily leaves the room and the board of review makes the final decision regarding the Scout’s advancement to Eagle Scout.
Local beneficiaries of Eagle Scout projects
Various schools, churches, hospitals, and organizations in Lansing and surrounding areas have been the beneficiaries of Troop 276 Eagle Scout projects. According to Coach Bergin, a total of 30 projects have been completed in Lansing alone in the 65 years of the Troop’s history.
Eagle Scout service projects completed within Lansing and outlying areas within the last four years include —
- Lou Gray’s kiosk displaying St. Ann School class pictures through the years for St. Ann’s Church in Lansing
- Adam Gardner’s planter boxes for Iron Oaks Park in Olympia Fields
- Martin Brown’s patio upgrade for Holy Angels Cathedral in Gary, IN
- Ted Gray’s Little Free Library for School District 158 in Lansing
- Seamus Polanski’s flagpole lights and benches for St. Ann’s Church in Lansing
- Joseph Boiquaye’s landscaping at the Women’s Center for Assembly Church of Hobart in Hobart, IN
- Max Pastore’s three benches around the lake at Villas of Lansing in Lansing
- Louie Pastore’s paver walk from the sidewalk to the benches at Villas of Lansing in Lansing
- Samuel Sheppe’s rustic table and benches at the Sand Ridge Nature Center in South Holland
- Sean Schuljak’s four mobile wardrobe units for the Drama Department at T.F. South High School in Lansing
- Desean Johnson’s 100 baby blankets for the Neonatal Unit at Northwestern Hospital in Chicago
Eagle Scouts save beneficiaries money
Eagle service projects can save beneficiaries a considerable amount of money. Coach Bergin explains how Troop 276 has saved money for St. Ann’s Church, a beneficiary of many past and present Troop 276 service projects:
“We’ve done 14 Eagle projects to date — 15 when Ciaran Polanski finishes his — so 14 projects here at St. Ann’s. Every time we would do this, I was kind of keeping a running total of how much money we saved St. Ann’s because usually what happens is the money is raised for the material and the Boy Scouts and adults donate the labor. And the last time I had run the numbers for Father Bill before he left here, it was over $60,000 that didn’t have to be paid for by St. Ann’s or the Archdiocese.”
Sometimes it is the Scout’s responsibility to initiate fundraising for the material costs involved in the project, and other times the project beneficiary pays for them. With St. Ann’s, the Scouts appealed to parishioners before or after services, explaining what the projects were, and then requested donations. Other Scouts have sold candy bars or bracelets that they personally wove. Before COVID, lumberyards were also very generous in the donation of materials.
Other beneficiaries — such as the 55+ community of Villas of Lansing — set aside a budget to pay for materials. Eagle Scout Josh Breitenreiter recently upgraded a bridge for the Villas community as his service project. According to Coach Bergin, Villas of Lansing had a budget of $8,000 for materials, but Josh checked with all the suppliers and different lumberyards and was able to purchase the materials needed for $4,000.
Every Eagle Scout service project has a story
BSA Troop 276 Eagle Coach Michael Bergin provided photos and narratives that show and tell the story of the extensive research, problem-solving, and labor involved with some of Troop 276’s recent Eagle service projects:
2019 – Eagle Scout Max Pastore – Villas of Lansing – benches
Residents of the Villas of Lansing were interested in improving its community walking path so more residents would use it. Max Pastore reviewed the area and met with the community board, proposing to them that he build new park benches to encourage residents to come outside and enjoy the outdoors. A total of three oversized sturdy benches were built and spaced out around the lake.
2021 – Eagle Scout Louie Pastore – Villas of Lansing – paved walkway
After two of Max Pastore’s benches were installed, the Villas of Lansing residents determined that access across the grass to the benches was not ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. After meeting with the community board, Max’s brother Louie Pastore agreed to address this problem for his Eagle Project. The best ADA route was chosen, the sod was removed and reinstalled in another area on the site, and new pavers with a stone base were installed to create a hard surface for easy access to the benches.
2022 – Eagle Scout Josh Breitenreiter – Villas of Lansing – walkway bridge
The residents of Villas of Lansing determined that the walkway bridge that was part of the walking path around the lake was in such bad shape that it needed to be replaced. Josh Breitenreiter agreed to address this for his Eagle Project. Reviewing the bridge structure, he determined that the supporting structure was in good shape, and his bridge repairs consisted of new decking and handrails.
2019 – Eagle Scout Sean Schuljak – TF South High School – prop storage units
The drama program at TF South High School was very important to Sean Schuljak. One of his personal pet peeves was the prop storage area. For his service project, Sean planned and created four storage units with shelving for props, hooks for costuming, and wheels for portability.
2022 – Connor Schuljak – American Legion Post 697 – picnic tables and benches
American Legion Post 697 is the charter organization that sponsors Troop 276, and the troop is always looking for ways to help them. During the COVID pandemic, many American Legion activities were moved outdoors, creating a need for more picnic tables and benches. Connor Schuljak agreed to provide these for his Eagle Project and was able to obtain four picnic table kits through donations to The American Legion. A unique aspect of this project was the transfer of four benches from St. Ann’s — a previous Eagle Project performed by Brian Scheppe in 2018 for St. Ann’s school — but since the school closed, the benches were not being used. Schuljak coordinated the moving, repairing, and sealing of the four benches. The project benefited the American Legion, increasing their ability to host outdoor activities.
2020 – Eagle Scout Sam Scheppe – Sand Ridge Nature Center – 1840s rustic furniture
Eagle Scout Sam Scheppe built rustic furniture to add to Sand Ridge Nature Center’s recreation of an 1840’s village. Scheppe researched furniture of the time period and selected several types of tables and benches to submit to the Nature Center for approval.
A wind storm caused significant damage to trees at the Nature Center and so it was decided to use full logs to build the furniture. After reviewing many of the logs available at the Nature Center, however, none were acceptable. Sam found a private party that had acceptable logs which were donated to the Nature Center. He coordinated moving the logs to a small saw mill in Crete in order to cut the logs to the proper sizes. The fabricated logs were then transferred to the Nature Center for assembly and installation.
2022 – Eagle Scout Lou Gray – St. Ann Church – 8th grade class photo kiosk
In 2021, the Archdiocese of Chicago made the decision to close St. Ann’s School, and Lou Gray wanted to memorialize all of the school’s 8th grade graduation classes for his project. The plan and challenge was to insure that group photos were available from each of the graduating classes since 1950 — the school’s opening year. After an outreach to church members, almost all of the pictures were located.
Lou installed the pictures on a spinning kiosk, allowing church members and former graduates to spin the kiosk to search for family members or particular classes. The project created a memorial to the students and families of St. Ann School.
One Eagle Scout perspective
Eagle Scout Louis Pastore — who has previously written two articles for The Lansing Journal about Troop 276’s preparation for and experience of backpacking at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico — recently shared his perspective on scouting experiences and Troop 276:
“My Dad had a friend that was in the troop, who was an adult leader that we knew outside of scouting, and then he told my Dad that there was this Boy Scout troop that was great and that we should try it.
“My brother tried it, and I wasn’t old enough, and I got to see him go on all these fun camping trips doing this crazy cool stuff, and I was like, oh, I really want to do that but I’m too young. So Cub Scouts was the next best thing, so I did that, and eventually joined up in the troop and then [my brother and I] went through scouting together.”
Pastore reflected on his Eagle service project that benefitted the Villas of Lansing:
“For me, the biggest learning point from [the service project] was the responsibility part because the cool thing about Eagle projects is that if anything goes wrong, you can’t really blame anyone else because it’s your project at the end of the day. So, if this one Scout messed up putting down a paver, it’s not really his fault because it’s your project, so that taught me a lot about the responsibility aspect of managing a project,” he said.
“If they’re not getting it, you can try to help them, or what we do in the troop a lot is pair them up — so you take someone with more experience, you put them with someone who’s newer and younger and then you let them work together, and that’s how we work around that.”
Pastore is currently doing commercial photography, which is the career choice he had envisioned and included in his Eagle Life Statement.
Of Troop 276, Pastore said, “It’s a great program we have here. We really focus on youth-led — which is encouraging. It’s not all the adults just taking us out on fun trips. The adults are there to drive us, pay for us, do paperwork and hopefully [keep us from] hurting ourselves. And then it’s the youth that are in charge of everything. We’re the ones doing the planning, the preparing, cooking all the meals, all the hard work that the kids do.”
For more information regarding Troop 276, visit Troop 276’s webpage.
I so enjoyed reading about all of the accomplishments of these eagle scouts in their service project for the community. If I have an occasion to see any of these projects, I will know who did them. They have a head start to becoming pillars of their communities as well as in life in general. Outstanding young men. 👏
I had no idea of all of the wonderful service projects these young men have given to the community. Fantastc!
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