Boy Scout Troop 457, the largest troop in the South Florida Boy Scout Council, recently advanced eight of its members to the organization’s highest rank, Eagle Scout, in a court of honor ceremony conducted on Apr. 25 at Kendall United Methodist Church.
Among those in attendance were U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a representative for Miami-Dade County commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, Village of Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner and Village of Palmetto Bay Mayor Eugene Flinn.
“These young men really learn important life skills and get exposed to a lot of things which will help them succeed in life,” said Assistant Scoutmaster Brian Grant. “Statistics show that only four out of 100 boys that start Scouting make it to Eagle Scout, so it’s a pretty impressive accomplishment.”
The first in his patrol to complete his project, Joshua Grant led 100 volunteers, donating a total of 624 hours, at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Oct. 11. They revitalized the area by removing plants from two flower gardens and planting new ones, relocating and cleaning three concrete benches, building a birdbath, thinning multiple bromeliad beds, mulching the entire area and cleaning the surrounding campus.
Currently enrolled in Coral Reef Senior High School’s engineering magnet program, the 15-year-old varsity lacrosse and cross country team member hopes to attend the University of Florida.
“It was a humungous relief to have completed the project,” he said. “It took a lot of work, time and organization and it feels great to have gotten it done.”
Scout Nicholas Alayo’s project took place on Nov. 8 at the Charlotte Jane Memorial Park Cemetery in Coconut Grove. He and 124 volunteers contributed a combined 588 hours repainting 300 above-ground cement vaults and clearing away overgrown brush covering the surrounding fences. Spending only $1,500 of the $4,000 raised for the project, he donated the remaining money to the local nonprofit and 100 leftover gallons of paint to maintain his work and repaint the Coconut Grove Historical Cemetery.
The 16-year-old homeschooled student has been a Boy Scout for more than seven years and plans on applying to John Paul the Great Catholic University and NYU after graduating to double major in film and business.
“My project has taught me many valuable lessons, especially about being a leader, and I will certainly use the knowledge I have gained for the rest of my life,” he said.
A junior enrolled in the engineering magnet at Coral Reef High School, Wesley Franz conducted his project on Nov. 22 at the DuMond Conservancy, a nonprofit affiliate of Monkey Jungle. After planning, gaining approvals and fundraising, he and 72 volunteers beautified the facility by building a 10- by 16-foot brick paver patio, replacing a rotting wood countertop and backsplash with Corian, eradicating invasive plants, spreading yards of sand around the cages and painting the ceiling of the outdoor wash station.
When the time came for a post-project group photograph, the Merchant Marine Academy hopeful was given a coach’s celebration.
“My friends in my patrol dumped a cooler of water filled with a bunch of bananas over me!” he said.
Working as a youth sailing coach at Coral Reef Yacht Club, Spencer Elmslie noticed that the nearby Coral Reef Park needed rejuvenating. On Nov. 29 he led 24 volunteers in planting 212 plants — including Mexican Heather, Jatropha and a Lignum Vitae tree — around the park, laid two pallets of mulch and repainted the playground and playing courts. The 17-year-old Miami Palmetto junior has been a Scout since he and his father signed up with the Cub Scouts 11 years ago.
He intends on attending FSU or Auburn University after graduating to study business, marketing and real estate. However, he hopes to maintain ties to the organization which has taught him so much.
“I plan to continue my involvement with Scouting and to uphold the Scout Spirit, Scout Oath and Scout Law for a lifetime,” he said.
For his project, Jake Armstrong honored his Girl Scout leader mother and Gold Award recipient sister on Jan. 10 by leading 66 volunteers, contributing 462 hours, at Girl Scout Camp Mahachee in Coral Gables. Together, they refurbished three fire rings and restored a pump house used to store a water filtration system rendered unusable since Hurricane Andrew. The fire pits were refitted with new logs and had their old coral rock borders replaced by new concrete blocks. The old logs were then repurposed to form walkways around the camp. They then installed new wood in the pump house and a built a new roof for the structure.
A junior enrolled in the robotics program at Terra Environmental Research Institute, he hopes to pursue a degree in computer science at Florida State University.
“The entire project was a great success and I feel like the work we all did for this camp will last and be appreciated for years to come,” he said.
Nine days later, on Jan. 19, Derek Curth conducted his project at Montgomery Botanical Center, a palm tree observation and research facility. With the assistance of 65 volunteers, he dug a 40- by three-foot root barrier trench to protect the adjacent greenhouse’s floor, laid mulch around trees along the main driveway, built and stained a new picnic table, and repainted four old picnic tables.
Already out of high school and working as a photographer, he will soon attend Miami Dade College with the hopes of becoming a paramedic.
“I really like the parks around here and thought that the Montgomery Center was a really cool place,” he said. “We finished our project way before schedule — before lunch, even — so I’m very proud of that.”
Christ Congregational Church’s 3Cs Preschool benefitted from the efforts of Denali Grant and 74 volunteers, who on Jan. 17 contributed a combined 550 hours of work repainting the school’s playground shed, the colorful arrows along the surrounding sidewalk and creating a new mural and hopscotch court. They also revamped the butterfly garden, reconstructed 10 raised vegetable garden beds, replanted a bromeliad bed and removed weeds around the main office building.
A Boy Scout since the first grade, the 17-year-old is a member of his school’s magnet art program, National Art Honor Society and varsity cross country team and is attending the American Legion Florida Boys State Program this summer. He wants to attend Appalachian State University to study industrial design after graduating in 2016.
“I hope that the kids were just awestruck when they saw it — that they went crazy, played around and enjoyed the work we did, because it was for them,” he said.
Monkey Jungle’s DuMond Conservancy got a second round of help from Troop 457 when Austin Regalado and 80 volunteers devoted more than 400 service hours constructing a large compost box, mulching the entire area with more than $600 worth of red cedar mulch, removing numerous invasive species and planting rosemary and lemon thyme for the monkeys in their garden. A junior in acting at the New World School of Arts, he is unsure of where he wishes to attend college but plans on majoring in both engineering and acting so that he may receive his BFA.
“I was incredibly surprised with how amazingly different it looked when we were done,” he said. “This project definitely prepared me for any leadership role I hope to take in the future.”
The ceremony, although celebratory, was also bittersweet. Troop 457’s beloved longstanding head Scoutmaster David Ziska passed away on Mar. 8 after a lengthy battle with Myelodysplastic Syndrome which turned into acute leukemia. Commissioner Cava’s representative delivered a touching resolution chronicling his many contributions to the community and Mayor Lerner proclaimed May 25 the David Ziska Day of Remembrance. His wife Julie, with whom he contributed 35 years of service to the troop and promoted 277 Eagle Scouts, remains actively involved as troop Scoutmaster. “It was a very special court of honor,” she said. “This particular group will always be extra endeared because it was the last group he dealt with himself. He made such an enormous, positive impact on so many young men, it’s just amazing.”
Later this year, in September, an additional 13 boys from Troop 457 will have their court of honor and be advanced to the rank of Eagle Scout.
For more information, visit www.bsatroop457.org.