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Eagle Scouts undertake service projects to aid community

posted Aug 30, 2008, 9:10 AM by Boy Scout Troop 856   [ updated Aug 30, 2008, 9:11 AM by Boy Scout Troop 856 ]
SHELTON - Jake Kaesmann likes being outdoors and working with his hands, so when it came time to choose his Eagle Scout Leadership Services Project, he designed a project that incorporated both.
Jake planned and led a group of his fellow Scouts, family, and friends in building a meditation garden across the street from St. Paul's Episcopal Church. He said he hopes residents will be able to use the space, which includes benches and is shaded by nearby trees, to sit and think. When it is not being used for reflection, Jake said the area could serve as extra seating for summer concerts or other events held on the Huntington Green.
"I'm hoping to get more people to come to the church also," he said.
Jake, who is 16 years old, is one of five Boy Scouts from Shelton's Troop 55 in the running this year to become an Eagle Scout, the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouts of America's scouting program.
Bob Kaesmann, Jake's father and the troop's Scoutmaster, said it is very rare for so many boys to be candidates for that distinction at one time.
"If you're lucky, you get one Eagle Scout every couple of years," he said.
"Five is unheard of."
The community is benefiting from the boys' interest in scouting as well.
To earn the rank of Eagle Scout, the boys must first plan, develop, and lead a service project of their choosing. The project is intended to demonstrate the candidate's leadership and commitment to helping his community, and cannot directly benefit the Boy Scouts of America.
Matthew Scinto, who just received his Eagle Scout title, planted American elm trees behind Mohegan School for his project. Matthew said he had observed the lack of shade around the school when he was a student there.
He also wanted to encourage his community to bring back the signature elm.
"New Haven used to be known as the Elm City," he said, before the trees were killed off by Dutch elm disease.
"I wanted to reintroduce them," he said, adding that he hopes others will take his lead and plant American elms that are resistant to the disease.
Zach Ryan worked on replacing posts at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, while Steve Sanko painted Huntington Chapel.
Chris Wilson has been working on building a handicap ramp at the American Legion building on Bridgeport Avenue, to provide access to an upstairs banquet hall.
Chris was also helping fellow Scout, Jake, with his project.
"It's hard, but it's fun," he said, as he helped move benches into place.
Chris' father, Tom Wilson, said the Scouts are required to take nearly complete control over their projects.
"The kids have to raise all the resources," said Wilson, who also is vice-president of the Housatonic Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which serves Ansonia, Derby, Oxford, Seymour, and Shelton.
"The project from the beginning to the end is essentially about the boy coordinating everything."
Scouts often ask for donations from local businesses as well as individuals, though with so many projects in the works, some of the businesses are strained by requests.
Jake hosted a carwash to raise money to finance his project. He also received donations, including benches to place around the 48 by 51 square-foot area.
Area businesses helped by donating time and food as well.
Bob Kaesmann said they were lucky to get many volunteers to lend a hand with the work.
"The projects bring the community together," said Carol Kaesmann, Jake's mother and a graphic artist who helped her son come up with a design for the plot.
The team planted grass, cleared a tree stump, trimmed surrounding trees, and created a patio and sidewalk from the garden.
They also added benches and a cement cross statue in the middle of the garden.
In the end, it was more work than they anticipated, especially since the ground was found to be sloped and had to be leveled.
After his project is completely finished, Jake, like his fellow Eagle Scout candidates, will compile a report on it, evaluating how he demonstrated leadership through the project, who benefited from it, and explaining what changes he made to his original plan.
Scouts' projects must then be assessed and approved by a board of review. The Scout also must earn 21 merit badges in subjects ranging from dog care to fitness to oceanography in order to receive the title.
"The hardest part is keeping them interested," said Carol Kaesmann, adding that she thinks the troop's relaxed vibe and its encouragement of the boys' other interests besides scouting has helped keep the Scouts engaged.
Not to mention the relationships formed in the process.
"A lot of it is about friendship, camaraderie, and learning to work together," Bob Kaesmann said.