The members of Scout Troop 553 have had one heck of a childhood. Scouts Robert Heaton, Blake Ito, Allen Moore, and Everett Sommers joined as young boys and grew up together camping, cycling, and sailing.
The group has passed many milestones together, graduating from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts, becoming Patrol Leaders and exploring the great outdoors. They recently passed the final threshold of their experience together as Scouts. These young men are now Eagles Scouts, having achieved the highest advancement in the Scouting ranks.
Each of the boys was required to complete a project to receive the status and spent many hours planning and executing their individual assignments.
Allen Moore’s project required a fundraising effort to purchase items for personal hygiene kits which he assembled for those in local shelters. Explaining his idea which took 100 hours to execute, Allen said, “I wanted to have an impact on people. I put together hygiene kits because I thought that would be of help.”
Each of the boys went to great lengths to complete their projects. Robert spent 50 hours building a split rail fence and three compost bins at the Southeast Gwinnett Food Co-Op; Blake designated 100 hours towards building four benches and assisted with additional maintenance work at a local Kindergarten. And Everett contributed over 150 hours completing hand painted photo boards for guests to enjoy at three Gwinnett County Parks.
Assistant Scout Master Alan Malone explained the life-long significance of the boys’ achievements, saying, “Being an Eagle is about more than accomplishment and merit. An Eagle Scout is someone who shows character by his actions. Many people are confused by the material characteristics of the award. Lists of have-done’s are impressive, but the will-do’s are what people should see when they see an Eagle Scout. We can talk about massive projects, endless merit badges, long hours of camping and challenging, high adventure trips. We should be proud of these accomplishments, but do we have to brag. What we have accomplished has provided tools to teach us to be better people.”
Robert, Everett, and Allen graduated high school in Spring 2019. For them, moving on will be like the end of an era.
“We’re going off to new places with no way to experience these outings in the same way ever again. It’s best in this time of change to remember the good times we have had with these people,” Everett said.
Each of the boys has slightly different perspectives on the adventures they shared with together. To Everett, learning to cook and pack up camp were sure signs that they were growing as a troop. Allen recalls some of the goofier moments they shared but considers himself lucky for the friendships made with each troop member.
“Together, we made some fantastic memories during our time together in Troop 553. We’ve gone sailing and snorkeling in the crystal, clear waters of Florida Key bays. We paddled with alligators in the Okefenokee Swamp. We crossed many, many times on the Silver Comet Trail on the Georgia - Alabama border. To think about how much changed, I’m convinced the Boys Scouts works. The self-confidence, experience, go-getter attitude and so much they taught me are invaluable.”
Robert admitted having mixed feeling about splitting ways with the rest of the troop.
“I’ve been a scout since first grade, and I’ve known most of these people my whole life. They’ve made me a better person,” said Robert. “It’s been a great time. Sad to see it end. We’re all going to college. We’re all going somewhere else.”
The last man standing, Blake is still a junior in high school and won’t be going anywhere just yet. Of his experience with the others, he said, “It has been amazing. [Being a Scout] taught me a lot of stuff and helped me make new friends and great memories. I love camping and being outside. It gives me a whole different look on life like you’re part of something bigger.”
The boys were recognized for completing their Eagle Projects at a pinning ceremony on May 18, 2019. Receiving their pins, each took a turn to thank their parents and others who had helped them along the way.
“They got a lot out of the Scouts,” said Robert’s dad, Bob Heaton. “I used to walk through them, but now, I walk around them – I have respect for them. I helped them grow, but they’ve helped me, too. I’d go on all the camping trips with them, and some days, I would have liked to stay home. But going through the program makes you a better person. A softer person.”
Scout Master Mike Layman reflected on his journey with the Scouts saying, “It’s one of the best programs in the world for turning young men, and now women, into leaders.”
Come fall, both Allen and Everett will be attending Georgia Institute of Technology. Robert will start his freshman year at Mercer University.
All photos by Jasmine Ito