Editor’s Note: For this week’s column, we sat down with Jake D’Eon, a 16-year-old member of Saugus Boy Scout Troop 62 who is completing a public service project to earn his Eagle Scout Badge – scouting’s highest honor. During his April school vacation, he will be overseeing a project to build eight handicapped accessible picnic tables at Breakheart Reservation. He is also organizing a fundraiser on Thursday, March 8 at 6:30 p.m. at Prince Pizzeria. Tickets for the Prince Pizzeria Comedy Night are $35 apiece, with all proceeds going to buy supplies to build the picnic tables. Jake – the son of Saugus Fire Department Deputy Chief Thomas D’Eon Jr. and former Selectman Jennifer D’Eon – is a sophomore at Essex North Shore Agricultural & Technical School, studying advanced manufacturing. He is a three-sport varsity athlete and competes in football, swimming and track & field. He’s been involved in scouting for a decade, beginning as a Cub Scout. He currently has 33 merit badges – 12 more than the 21 required for Eagle Scout. He said his dad won’t allow him to get a job until he earns his Eagle Scout Badge.
Highlights of the interview follow.
Q: How did this project evolve? How did you get the idea for it?
A: I got the idea from a fellow troop member’s mother who worked in DCR [state Department of Conservation & Recreation] and explained to me kind of what was going on within the parks. And Breakheart had a big fire over the past summer, so I felt like it would be nice to give back to Breakheart, so I got Mr. [Anthony] Guthro’s information from the DCR person at our troop. I talked to Anthony about what he was looking to do, what he needed. That was kind of it… What do you guys need?
Right now, out of everything, he said, picnic tables. And I really kind of took to that idea. And I really liked the idea that most of these tables are going to be handicapped accessible, which allows more people to have access to be able to use the park and to be able to go out in nature. Since I love nature, I would love for more people to go out and be in nature.
Q: Did you get any idea from him how many people with disabilities actually go to the park right now?
A: As of now, I think it’s lower than what they would like, so I believe this is going to help. The park is pretty accessible. All of the roads are being used by handicapped people. The picnic table idea is to make them feel more included, so they don’t feel like they are separated from the group that they are a part of or are able to be a part of.
Q: So, these tables are going to be raised so that a wheelchair can fit under them?
A: Oh yes. Some of them are long tables and the benches are short. A lot of the tables at the site are not all handicapped accessible.
Q: This is going to be a weekend project in April.
A: Yes. Hopefully. I plan on doing it before April vacation in case it does have to be extended – with all of the volunteers we will be getting.
Q: How many people will you be presiding over?
A: I have a lot of people who want to volunteer to help. I would probably say I need 15 to 20 people. And I would say that I have that.
Q: Will you build more tables than the eight if you raise more money?
A: Oh yes. And I will talk with Anthony to see exactly how many tables he would want. There’s a possibility there will be a lot more tables, pending on donations. However much money we raise will determine how many tables we will manage, what can be done and how much nicer they can be.
Q: What’s the shelf life of these tables you are going to be making?
A: Hopefully … We’ll probably be using pressure-treated wood. I would hope at least five to 10 years. Wood is pretty resilient, especially when it’s under a pavilion. I would just hope that it’s enough that future Eagle Scouts can see my project and do it again.
Q: Try to replicate it.
A: Yeah – fix it up. If you see where one of the scouts in the troop did something, you can go to the picnic tables and get an idea how it was done. And they can say, “Hey, let’s fix up the pavilion.” Hopefully, this site will be a good example of what can be done to make the park better. That’s all that we want to do.
Q: How many man hours will it take for those eight tables?
A: Well, talking about it right now is man hours. So as far as man hours – anything to do with the project is man hours – talking about it with other people and coming up with ideas. As of now, I would probably say I have upwards of 10 to 15 man hours wrapped up in the project. For those tables, we’re looking at two full work days. I would say it’s going to take 10 hours of actually building them. I would say 10 plus hours for just building the tables, about two work days.
Q: What’s the main thing you got out of scouting? And what does it really matter to finish off the Eagle Scout Badge?
A: I would say the main thing that I’ve learned through scouting would be perseverance, leadership and camaraderie. You learn all of those skills by being put in situations – a great example is the wilderness survival merit badge. You go out there with your friends and it’s up to you to build a shelter and stay in it. And it has to keep you warm and it has to keep you dry, so you learn about teamwork when you work closely with friends.
Q: Was it in the wintertime when you did this?
Q: What was the temperature?
A: Below freezing. I couldn’t tell you exactly, but it was not warm.
Q: How many scouts were with you?
A: Probably half a dozen. My friends and I made a bad shelter, I’ll tell you that. That’s definitely learning about perseverance and learning from your mistakes. “Okay, this didn’t work. We’ll try this next time.” You don’t win everything when you’re trying to do it. But you learn from your mistakes quickly in a situation like that, which is something that I think teaches you skills faster than anything else I’ve ever done, other than sports. It’s the same thing in sports. You get put in a situation with your friends and you gotta figure it out. Scouting tests the bonds of people, definitely. That’s why I’ve been in scouting. It’s like a family, especially after being put in a situation together.
Q: What’s the allure….10 years of scouting for you? Does it matter if you get the Eagle Badge or not? What separates the Eagle Badge from the Scouting Experience?
A: It’s the finish line. It’s one of those things that not everyone gets to do, so if you get to do it, it’s special
Q: About 94 percent of scouts don’t get to do it.
A: It’s an amazing experience. Just this experience of trying to do the project is a learning experience that I’ve never had in my entire life. I’m constantly on the phone talking to people. I’m taking notes about the thing. I’m looking at donations. I’m looking at things that I’ve gathered. Now, I have to look at materials that were donated to me. There are lessons in that that you can’t learn anywhere, other than doing this right now.
I think it’s a very important thing to be able to partake in, because 94 percent of the scouts don’t get to do it. And that’s why I think the Eagle rank is such a big deal in the world. You put that on a job application – Eagle Scout – that piques interest because you probably have more leadership skills.
Q: What merit badge of the 33 are you most proud of? The merit badge you treasure more?
A: Probably a lot of medical-style merit badges: First Aid, Lifesaving, Emergency Preparedness. I would say it’s hard to pick one of those three because they are very important skill sets. Other than, probably, going into medical training, Lifesaving is a very important one to me, especially being on the swim team. If something happened to one of my teammates and nobody was around, I’d be able to get somebody out of the pool and know what to do. It’s a critical skill. Swimming is a critical skill. I believe that knowing how to swim can save you in a lot of situations. It’s one of those things where you can take a situation that is overwhelming and break it down into a checklist.
So, say you are in the woods on a hike, and someone breaks a leg. Instead of freaking out – like you don’t have service on your phone – and you have two other people, and you have to get your friend out. Emergency Preparedness is one of those merit badges that prepares you for that, because before you can even go into the woods; you have already gone through scenarios that prepare you for that. What do I need to carry? What do I have with me? What don’t I have? So, if your friend falls in the woods and you don’t have phone service, you know what to do. If you have more people, that’s great. Then you can make a stretcher. One of the things we learned in emergency preparedness – if you have two people, you can carry somebody out. And if you have five people and somebody gets hurt, you have two people stay together while others go for help.
Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: I want to join the military. I want to join the Navy and I want to be a Navy Seal.
Q: You want to be a Navy Seal? How long have you thought about that?
A: Forever – since I can remember. When I was really little, I wanted to be a firefighter. And then my sister told me to do something different. She didn’t like me playing firefighter anymore, so my interest in the military picked up. I started to understand that my father did other things. And my father is an important role model for me. So my dad was in the Navy. He was a corpsman. He told me some cool stories. I’ve met some interesting people at the Fire Department. Becoming a Naval Seal [is] another test. I like to test myself; I like to push myself. It’s like Eagle, where I want to be part of the six percent that does [make Eagle].
Q: Do you have anyone in your family who has made Eagle?
A: Maybe some cousins, but none that I know of. My grandfather did Boy Scouts; my father did Boy Scouts, but neither one made it to Eagle. My grandfather made it to Life [the rank before Eagle] and he stopped.
Q: You have 33 merit badges right now; how many more do you intend to earn?
A: That’s one of those things where after I get Eagle, hopefully, I can stick around my troop. And being the troop guide, I can help kids get merit badges that they want to do. And if it’s a merit badge that I don’t already have, I guess I’ll do it, too, with them.
Q: There are over a hundred merit badges out there.
A: Yeah, there are. I’d say I would probably like to get about 40 or 45 maybe. There are a couple of kids who have gotten over a hundred. That’s a lot of merit badges. That’s a lot of work.
Q: Looks like a lot of people have volunteered to help with donations for the fundraiser?
A: A lot of that’s my mother. She goes on Facebook and has gotten people to donate a lot of things. She got a flier out there and got the word out about the Prince Pizza Comedy Night. And as we got the word out, people started to donate. That’s how that all started. It’s a lot of talking to people.
The thing about doing The Eagle project – this has to do with leadership – I have to tell adults what to do and – for a young person – this is my first time doing that. I’ve been looking up to them forever, and now I have to tell them what to do. That’s why Eagle Scouts are great leaders: It pushes you out of your comfort zone. Soliciting people to do things for me – “Hey, can you go do this?” – it’s weird. But once you overcome that, it helps you as a person in society, knowing it’s okay to do that. And it pushes you out of your comfort zone. It helps you do things that you didn’t think you could.
Q: Anything else you want to say? About the Eagle Scout Badge and this project?
A: I would say that if there are young people out there or people who have children and they have interests like I have – like just being outside or whatever – get a kid into scouting, because they can learn a lot about themselves; they can learn a lot about other people, and it will teach them life skills. It will teach you how to become an adult a little bit easier and learn more and more things about yourself.