According to Boy Scouts of America, more than one and a half million of its members are Eagle Scouts, its highest rank. As of March 2, Kristofer Johnson, Steven Masiakos and Chris Syrett, members of Oyster Bay-East Norwich Boy Scout Troop 253, have joined that exclusive club.
Becoming an Eagle Scout isn’t easy, and takes years of dedication. Candidates must earn 21 merit badges and serve a minimum of 16 months in a leadership position. There are other requirements, too, like participating in seven or more scoutmaster conferences and five boards of reviews.
All of that takes a great deal of time and effort, but the non-scouting community may only be aware of Eagle service projects because their fruits generally benefit the community.
Johnson, Masiakos and Syrett, who are friends, worked hard on their service projects, and Oyster Bay and East Norwich have benefited from the teenagers’ efforts.
Masiakos, 17, of Oyster Bay, who hopes to someday be a mechanical engineer, built five barn owl nesting boxes at Theodore Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill home for his project. The purpose, he said, was to help increase the population of the owls, which is declining on Long Island.
Originally, Masiakos planned to build benches on the pathway at Sagamore Hill, but changed his mind after speaking to Scott Gurney, a former scoutmaster who is a park ranger at the Oyster Bay Cove house museum.
Gurney told Masiakos that a mice infestation was discovered in the former president’s house a few years ago during its restoration. He cited the decline of barn owls, which eat shrews and mice, as a probable reason.
Masiakos got to work, learning all he could about barn owls. “I did two pages of research on the history of barn owls for my Eagle Scout book, which I really enjoyed,” he said. “I like to be organized.”
That went well, but he found that he had a major challenge — finding volunteers to assist him, which is required.
“I needed volunteers that were old enough to use power tools,” he explained. “Four guys ended up helping me, two of which were already Eagle Scouts.”
Masiakos built the boxes, which are two feet wide and a foot and a half tall, out of heavy-duty, pressure-treated wood and painted them dark orange.
Then, last Sept. 14 he installed them in the trees at Sagamore Hill.
Syrett, 18, of East Norwich, is a freshman at Farmingdale State College, and has his sights set on becoming a mechanical engineer. An Oyster Bay High School graduate, he has stayed on with Troop 253 and now serves as an assistant scoutmaster.
Last summer, Syrett built a memorial garden to honor former OBHS athlete Jackie Henderson, who was just 27 when she was hit by a car in Huntington and killed in July 2017.
Although Syrett said he didn’t know Henderson, he knew of her accomplishments as a member of the high school’s track team. The garden, a tribute to her, is beside the track at the James H. Vernon School, where the team practices. Syrett said the area had been overgrown with weeds and poison ivy.
“Chris Weber, my track coach, suggested the garden,” Syrett said. “Jackie died so young, while going for a run. I could relate to it.”
The garden includes two benches in a shady area where runners can relax after practices. Plants surround it, and there is a plaque honoring Henderson.
His biggest challenge, Syrett said, was that he was just five weeks away from turning 18 when he started work on the garden. In order to become an Eagle Scout, a candidate has to be younger than 18. Adding to the pressure, he was going on a two-week family vacation in Italy during those five weeks.
Twenty-seven people helped with the project — members of the troop as well as friends. He said it was stressful but worth it.
“It was cool seeing an unused area turn into something you can use and see,” Syrett said. “Being a scout has given me a lot of leadership and problem-solving experiences, a way to solve things outside the box. And it was cool giving back to my community.”
Johnson, 18, of Oyster Bay, has been a scout since he was 15. Back then, he said, he didn’t know what an Eagle Scout was, but after he attended a few of the ceremonies, he knew he would become one someday too. He plans to go to Roger Williams University in the fall and major in cybersecurity and networking.
Johnson took on two projects for his Eagle Scout project at his place of worship, Christ Church in Oyster Bay. He made a compost bin and built a staircase from the rectory to the garden. It was needed, he explained, because people were walking on cinder blocks to get to the garden.
“A lot of our parishioners are older,” Johnson said, “and it wasn’t safe for them to get to the garden without a staircase.”
Building the stairs presented some challenges. “The first day of building the staircase, I had to rent an auger,” he said. “Every drill got stuck on a root. It took us a half hour to get the blade out per hole.”
Then nothing squared up on the plan, he said, so he had to redraw it. Luckily, his father is an architect, and Kristofer has a friend who is a master carpenter.
Johnson is proud of the five-step staircase, which he made of pressure-treated oak.
“Any time I go to church, where I’m also an alter server, five or six people come up to me to say something nice about the staircase,” he said. “And it ended up being less work than I thought it would be.”