WILMINGTON – On June 5, there will be five Eagles among the many Spartans receiving their diplomas at St. Mark’s High School. The five young men have all earned their Eagle Scout rank in the Boy Scouts during this academic year.
The five are from different troops and are spread all over New Castle County (and beyond), but their goal was the same. Each dedicated himself to reaching the rank that approximately 7 percent of Boy Scouts achieved in 2013. The road is not easy, requiring candidates to earn 21 merit badges, serve six months in a troop leadership position and complete a significant service project.
Nicholaas Stahl, Austin Hanby, Vincent Panella, Carl DiStefano and John Livingstone said they knew early on in their Scouting careers that Eagle was something they wanted to achieve.
“My dad was an Eagle, my three older brothers were Eagles, so it was just something I always knew,” said DiStefano, a member of Troop 33, based at Immaculate Heart of Mary in north Wilmington.
“You see the older Scouts when you’re growing up and you’re rising through the ranks of Boy Scouts,” he continued. “You see all your older friends graduate, having these big ceremonies, and you really get to understand how much of a big deal it is and how much you want to be a part of that elite brotherhood.”
Hanby did not have siblings and a parent’s example, but a family member played a role in his decision to become a Scout in second grade.
“The reason I joined Scouts was I went to my older cousin’s Eagle Scout ceremony and pretty much told my mom, ‘I want to do that,’” he said. Hanby is a member of Troop 2002 in Hamilton, N.J. He transferred to St. Mark’s this year after moving from New Jersey to Middletown, where he is a member of St. Joseph’s Parish.
While the group may not have known it, members of the St. Mark’s community were paying attention as they pursued their goal. Panella, a member of Troop 88, based at his parish, St. Anthony of Padua in Wilmington, was interviewed for an article on the school’s website.
“The next day I walked into school, everybody was walking up to me in the hall,” he said.
Livingstone said “two of my friends showed up at my house after my board of review with Cheez-its and ice cream.”
Scouts are required to plan, implement and execute their Eagle projects, which takes several months and often calls for many volunteers.
Stahl, who belongs to Troop 56 out of First Presbyterian Church in Newark, cleared a bunch of debris behind a building and space around a bike trail at White Clay Creek State Park. He also built a fence around the bike trail. Poison ivy was killing trees along the nature trail there, he said.
Hanby built 10 recycling centers for his middle school, St. Gregory the Great Academy in Hamilton, N.J. They were the size of a small cabinet and were on wheels so they could be moved from classroom to classroom. His project took about eight months from conception to completion.
Panella collected toiletries for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Delaware, distributing 55 bags of toiletries to MS patients in 27 nursing homes throughout the state. He collected items at church and throughout his neighborhood.
Local poverty awareness was the subject of DiStefano’s project. He used the Spartan Morning News at St. Mark’s to help and collected more than 700 pounds of food for the Food Bank of Delaware at St. Mark’s and Cab Calloway School for the Arts.
Finally, Livingstone, who is a member of Troop 2 at Independence School in Newark, built six benches for the school where his mother teaches in Salem County, N.J. The school was building an outdoor garden and needed the benches for its outdoor classroom.
Being an Eagle Scout is something that pays dividends in the short and long terms, the boys said. Livingstone, who will attend the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., said it helped him earn a scholarship.
“When I went out to interview for it, there were probably 20 of us there. Fifteen of us were guys, and over half of us were Eagle Scouts,” he said.
DiStefano said this is something they can include on college applications, but the benefits go beyond that. At the Eagle Scout ceremony, they are told that they are “marked men” that others will be watching.
“Since we’re Boy Scouts, society looks to us to be leaders in the community, no matter where we are. We have those lessons that we learned from Scouting. It’s how we’re going to practice them in the real world,” he said.
According to Hanby, it can also help later in life. “When you introduce yourself to people, you may mention it, and other people in the room may say, ‘Oh, I’m an Eagle Scout, too.’ You automatically have that connection with other people. It helps in a lot of other ways. When people see that on a resume, they know you can push a big project all the way to the end, you can lead people, and you actually can follow through on many different things.”
All of the Spartan Eagle Scouts would encourage others to join Scouting as a way to learn and to experience things they might otherwise never do. Livingstone said he’s met author James Patterson, Olympian Shaun White and former U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates, while DiStefano has traveled all over the country and learned leadership and other skills.
According to Panella, “it’s all about the experience. So many doors open up for you.”