On the path to Eagle Scout

André Miller nearing highest Boy Scout rank
Fri, 10/06/2017 - 10:15am

Ed. note: Island resident André Miller, a senior at the Block Island School, has undertaken an ambitious project in order to attain the rank of Eagle Scout. His project has been evolving in a very public place — the front lawn of the Harbor Church — and, since it’s been getting a bit of attention, we thought we’d get some details on what the project is all about, and how it came to be.

Q: We see you’re doing a pretty ambitious project to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout? First, can you tell us what it requires to reach that goal? How many ranks are there leading up to Eagle Scout?

A: When you join Scouting, you start off as a Recruit. You must memorize the Scout Oath and Law, and learn a few basic knots to become a Tenderfoot Scout. After that comes Second and First class. Achieving those involves earning several merit badges, going on campouts, and learning about safety and Scout spirit. Next rank is Star Scout. At this juncture, you have to spend six months in a position of leadership in your troop, get a specified amount of community service hours, and earn some of the merit badges that are required for Eagle Scouts to have. After Star comes Life. It comes with six more months of leadership, even more service hours, and more merit badges. To move from Life to Eagle, the highest rank in Scouting, you have to show outstanding leadership, service, and character. Aside from earning a list of important merit badges that turn you from a boy into a man and prepare you for life, you have to plan, fundraise, and carry out a big old project to serve your community — something tangible that will last. It involves a crushing amount of paperwork and metaphorical hoops to jump through. But, if you can complete all that, then I think there’s nothing you can’t do. For example, I’m expecting my senior project this year to seem easy in comparison. But anyway, reaching Eagle requires years of dedication and sweat. It’s a test. Less than four percent of all Scouts get it. 

Q: How long have you been a Scout?

A: I have been a Scout since I was 12 and in sixth grade. We have been meeting for weekly Scouting meetings for six years in the Rec Room of the Harbor Church.

Q: What has Scouting taught you?

A: Two things that being a Scout has taught me:

Scouting has taught me about camaraderie and dedication. I’ve spent countless hours working on badges and projects, and serving my community. And I did it all with my best friends. We went to camp together, even spent a night in a shelter made of sticks and leaves in the woods. All of this would not have been possible without them. That’s a large part of what Scouting is for me. Growing as an individual, but doing it as part of a brotherhood. I’ve made many friends at different Scout functions. I even got help from a troop of kids from Connecticut by walking up to them outside of the Post Office and asking if they wanted to come work on my Eagle Project. That is Scout spirit right there. It’s the kind of thing that enabled me to work so hard on this project and reach my goals.

Q: Describe your Eagle Scout project.

A: My Eagle Project is a 70-foot curved retaining wall for a garden on the lawn of the Harbor Church. It is made out of stone blocks that are fitted together in seven levels that rest in a trench filled with gravel. I learned a lot about engineering, using tools and measurements to ensure correct construction, and being painstaking about the process. It took well over a month to complete. We used heavy equipment to excavate and then backfill once the work was done. There were many hard-working volunteers giving their time during the busy summer months! It was incredible for me to experience how much people gave to this project. It was also wonderful to learn so many skills that I never knew before such as coordinating a crew, fundraising, using a laser level, working with stone, operating an excavator, etc. I’ll never forget working on this. It is my biggest accomplishment to date. The community really responded with support and encouragement (and donations).

Q: How did it come about? 

A: I decided that the Harbor Church would be a good beneficiary because that’s where we hold our Scout meetings and it’s a great community organization, as well. I asked Tony Pappas if the church needed anything in particular and he mentioned that they were interested in putting in a contemplation garden: a beautiful and relaxing place for holding ceremonies and events, a garden space for people to sit, read, or meditate. After talking with Tony, I then got in touch with friend and landscape architect, Derek van Lent, and asked for his help in designing the garden. After collaborating with Derek and Tony, Derek drew up detailed plans for the Church Trustees and the Historic District Commission to approve. Derek already had some ideas. We had to scale the project back to get it done before my 18th birthday, and even so, there was barely enough time.

We broke ground in early August (after planning for about six months or so), dug the trench, dumped a truck load of gravel, leveled the first course of stone block… and now, the curved retaining wall with several stone slab steps is complete. We put in topsoil and seed. There will be a dedication ceremony in mid or late October. The shrubs and benches will be installed at a later date either this fall or next spring. The biggest part of the garden plan was building the retaining wall and that is done. That was the Eagle Project. It took almost 300 hours and thousands of dollars of donated time, money and material. I am so grateful to Derek van Lent, Billy Rose, Bain and Andy Transue, Joe Sprague, Seth Draper, Jabez Dewey, Tony Pappas, Steve and Eileen Miller, Casey Hennessy, John Jacobsen, Maya  and Zeke Veldman-Wilson, Evalene Deane, Jake Douglas, Mac Brown, Eagle Scouts Bruce Montgomery, David Lamb and David Lewis. (Right now, David Lewis is the only Eagle Scout from Block Island Troop 30. I will be the second Eagle Scout in our Troop’s history.) Thank you to Judy Lundsten, Linda and Jerry Powers and the Robisons. Huge thank you to the Harbor Baptist Church and all its members for their support. 

Q: What’s next after achieving the rank of Eagle Scout? 

A: It’s the highest rank in Scouting. There are additional awards that can be won called Eagle Palms, but as an 18-year old, I have aged out of Scouting! Officially, at least. They say that Eagle Scouts are for life. I do feel a huge sense of accomplishment... now on to college applications. Wish me luck.

From all of us at The Block Island Times, good luck, André!

This interview was conducted and edited by Lars Trodson.