Heart of the Treasure Valley: The merits of merit badges

Eagle Scout has a goal to fill his sash — with experiences

July 27, 2013 

Swimming was not his strong suit. But there’s a whole lot of merit badges that assume a basic swimming proficiency and it just had to be done.

He says: “I prepared all summer to be able to complete that.”

Swimming became the challenge that stood between him and the rank of Eagle Scout. He took a swim class. He swam laps in the pool. He figured out that cold was part of the issue, so he braved the guffaws and suited up in neoprene. And he did it.

“(Eagle Scout) is one of the main awards for all Boy Scouts to achieve, and I got it. Most boys usually get it right on the edge of 18 (years old), around the age I am now, but I got it at 15.

“(I felt) … accomplished.”

Justin Peters became the sixth Boy Scout in his family to achieve Eagle. As significant as the award is, though, it was neither the pinnacle of Justin’s scouting career, nor was it the end goal. Eagle Scout requires 21 merit badges, but Justin has his sights set on a greater number: 111 of them.

Scouting offers more than 130 badges, so this is a number significant only to Justin: It’s the number of badges that will fill up his sash front and back. And then he’s ready for other things.

“It’s interesting how far I’ve gotten with this. I mean like, it’s actually kind of cool that I’ve been able to learn all these things from all these individual badges.”

When Justin was 11 and began scouting, his father challenged to him to earn 51 merit badges. That was his dad’s own goal when he was a Scout, but he stopped at 37. Not Justin. He’s at 105, having added canoeing, kayaking, rowing and wilderness survival badges this summer at Scout camp. (Plus, he did his first “polar bear swim.”)

Says David Peters, his father: “Other kids don’t always rise to the encouragement or the challenge. He seems to thrive on it.”

Some of the merit badges were a means to an end, some were challenging, and some still conjure up good memories, like shotgun shooting and climbing. But the collective result has been far greater than the sum of the individual badges.

“The great thing about these (badges) is that if you ever need to do something later in life, you’ll have a little bit of background experience for it. Just a good, general feel of how to do things. Like, you won’t be completely lost.”

Auto mechanics, for instance — changing the oil, checking the fluids — for when he gets a car.

“Basic things that many young men aren’t able to do now.”

And the pursuit of merit badges has taught him even more important, less tangible lessons.

“I’ve learned to work hard and get things done. When the going gets rough, don’t give up very easily. Like this (signaling) merit badge, I almost gave up. You had to do Morse Code and (learn to signal with) flags. You had to memorize all that, and it was really hard. Whew.”

Hanging in there is one of the lessons that Justin’s father is pleased that Justin learned.

David: “(I told him), the main thing is you’ve got to finish them. … Don’t let merit badges hang out there. That’s for college, that’s for anything in life: If you’re going to be successful, you’ve got to complete things.”

Perhaps the greatest reward is when Justin looks back and sees how the merit badges have changed him.

“When I first started doing leadership things, I was very quiet. Like, I am still pretty quiet in nature, but I was really quiet. I couldn’t speak in a big group. I’ve just gained more confidence and I’m able to talk with my peers and help younger Scouts get things done.”

Justin is quiet and reflective; he’s an introvert. He’s also a straight-A student and describes himself as mellow and “slightly nerdy.” Through his pursuit of merit badges, he has given himself challenges and found himself rising to the occasion.

“Scouts has given me a lot of confidence because it’s showed I can achieve a lot of things if I put my mind to it.”

Taking that to heart, Justin ran for Student Council last year. Note that over the course of his life, Justin has moved from Oregon to Arizona to Montana to Boise, and has attended Boise High School for just one year. He didn’t get elected, and in many ways, it could have been a traumatic experience. Justin brushes it off.

“It was kind of disappointing. But I’m glad I did it. It helped my public speaking skills.”

Undaunted, Justin will serve in an appointed capacity on Student Council when school begins. (He’s got business cards to pass out so that students can access him easily.) And with that same spirit, Justin also decided to join the cross country and track team.

“I wanted to do something new and different. … I’m slightly above average, but I’m no athlete. Some of the people on my team are, like, amazing runners.

“I’m happy to give it a shot — it’s out of my comfort zone, it’s something new, I get to meet new people, I get to get exercise, and I can add something to my resume, also.”

Most recently, Justin has decided to apply for the William T. Hornaday Award, which is given to Scouts for service in natural resource conservation. To do that, he’s had to plan, coordinate, execute and critique four projects in four different areas plus earn related merit badges.

“You can never really stop learning about leadership, really.”

For his Eagle Scout project, Justin planted 100 trees at an Audubon center in Billings, Mont. Then he organized a trash cleanup along the Yellowstone River. In Boise, he weeded, pruned and planted native species at the Wildland Firefighters Monument and planted — and is watering weekly — 255 cottonwood trees along the Boise River.

“I thought (the Hornaday Award) was a good way to get some more projects done and help the environment. I thought it would be a really good, challenging task for me to do, for me to complete, and for me to gain some more leadership experience.

“I want to be able to excel in what I do.”

This is all part of a bigger plan for his life, which he has developed over the years.

“I’m going to cut my hair after I take my junior picture, and then I’ll try to convince a senator as to why I’m a favorable person to support for the Coast Guard Academy.”

He’s been thinking about his options and interests — from officer to enlisted, from entrepreneur to conceptual creative, from practical to pragmatic.

His father: “Plan A, Plan B, Plan C. I’ve always taught him that. That’s one of the things he’s getting pretty good at. I’ve always taught him to shoot for the highest goal, but if you don’t get that … he’s getting good at not being afraid to try things.”

In other words, if Justin doesn’t get the Hornaday Silver Medal (awarded to only eight boys per year), he’ll qualify for the Bronze Medal. Or, for instance, when he didn’t get elected to Student Council, he pursued the appointment process. And, if he doesn’t get into the Coast Guard Academy, he will enlist and become an officer. He’ll go to college one way or the other.

“I pretty much realized the full potential of what you could do and learn in Scouts from all the merit badges I worked on. Like, the full potential of what a person could do and learn, and (I was able) to experiment and see which career possibility would be the best (for me).”

After Justin reaches his goal of 111 merit badges, he plans to broaden his activities to Venturing, a co-ed, high-adventure branch of Scouting for young adults, and perhaps go after other awards, like a Trust Award that explores religions and cultures.

“I think having a wide range of experiences is good to be able to understand people better and why they do the things that they do.”

In the meantime, there’s this summer. Between vacations with his mother and with his father and a week at Scout Camp, Justin didn’t think he could get a job, so he decided to start a lawn care service.

“That’s probably the most important thing about Scouts. If you do it right, you’ll get a great work ethic. (Which means) to be able to do your job effectively and be respected by your peers.”

In the rest of his life, he’s pretty quiet about his achievements in Scouting — less so in business. He’s got a hat, a shirt with a logo and more business cards. The business cards say:

“Eagle Scout at your service.”

Know someone living “from the heart”? Idaho Statesman photojournalist Katherine Jones spotlights someone in the Treasure Valley who influences our lives not only by what they do, but how and why they do it. Do you know someone we should know? Call 377-6414 or email kjones@idahostatesman.com.

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