The day after Christmas Raphael Zdanis, 17, took a big step toward attaining the commendable status of Eagle Scout. He assembled 24 scouts, scout leaders and parents from Germantown Troop 489 to build stairs leading from the Muddy Branch Trail, as accessed behind the playground on Stonemason Drive, down to the creek. Hikers had created an erosion channel on the downward sloping people’s path to the creek, Zdanis said, and his Eagle Scout Service Project that built 22 wooden steps into the hill Dec. 26 will help to control future erosion.
It took a lot of work to get to this point.
Zdanis said that he learned a lot, “all of the engineering that goes into it, how high the rises have to be on each stair—they’re 7.5 inches.” Fortunately, he has volunteered for many Eagle Projects over the years and has participated in many Boy Scout activities like trail maintenance and building squirrel boxes. He also had the support of his father, Richard, an Eagle Scout, his uncle, Zack Kates, a civil engineer, his Eagle coach, Donald Free, a project executive with Forrester Construction, and a great turnout of scout volunteers.
“What I think is really cool is that a lot of these boys are current scouts but there are at least two who have already gotten their Eagle but they still help because they’re lifelong scouts,” said Zdanis’ mother, Soly.
In total, the group counted six Eagles, those two young adults in addition to four parents and leaders.
Zdanis began planning in August and adjusted his athletic program this year at Seneca Valley to make his Eagle project his priority. He realized over the summer that his six-day-per-week football practice/game schedule would not leave enough time for the project and decided to join the golf team this fall instead.
An Eagle Project must benefit a charitable or community organization and be completed before a scout turns 18. One of the purposes of the project is for the scout to demonstrate leadership.
For his project, Zdanis said he had to figure out the design, materials and cost, as well as tools required. After a few weeks of planning, he met with Eagle Coach Donald Free, District Representative Tom Kennedy, Muddy Branch Alliance Director Paul Hlavinka, and Troop 489 Scout Master Karl Moline.
“There are four approvals to get it approved,” explained Free. “Then he does a final plan, and then he does a final report, which he hasn’t done yet.”
Zdanis’ steps are designed to last. He used pressure-treated wood and secured each step with two-foot-deep metal rods. Steps were then further anchored with sand pulled from the creek below.
“Before he finishes this project—after what he’s done today—he has a pretty extensive write-up to do, a lot of lessons learned and also he writes two essays,” Free explained. “One is an essay about the project and how it went, what went wrong and how to do it better. The second essay is about his life’s purpose and visions. Then after that he goes before a Board of Review, and it’s almost like a college thesis—he has to defend his project. … They’ll engage him in questions not just about his project, but they’ll engage him in questions about his life.”
Scouting, Zdanis said, has been an important part of his life. “I feel like it really brings you closer together to a different group of people. A lot of people have their friends at school but camping with people really lets you know people better and have better relationships. We have people (in the troop) from Clarksburg, Damascus, a whole bunch of different schools around Montgomery County.”
Zdanis said he has loved being part of a group where “everyone’s in it to learn new things, do new things. Our troop does one activity a month.”
He has fond memories of the troop’s annual January trip to Camp Sinoquipe in Fort Littleton, Pennsylvania. The troop stays in cabins around a lake. “Everyone loves when it freezes over a foot and we can go walk on it,” Zdanis said. Every year, the troop has a snowball fight. One year, Zdanis recalled, the cabin across the lake from his surprised them with a pile of snowballs made the night before. “They were like ice balls,” Zdanis laughed.
“We put electronics away that weekend, and they play board games and chess,” added Free, whose two sons are troop members.
Free credits the troop’s strength and success to Scout Master Karl Moline. “Karl Moline is an Eagle from our troop, and he has been an adult in our troop for over 25 years, and he’s been our scout master for 19 years,” Free said. “He’s very dedicated. He’s really a role model for all of these guys. I do it because I’m a Dad of two of these guys. Karl does it because he’s dedicated. We’re all dedicated, but Karl really has made this his life’s work.”
The troop celebrates many Eagle Scouts each year. “The statistics are interesting because out of all the scouts that join scouting, only five percent make Eagle,” Free said. “Our troop runs around 20 percent. Our troop has been in Germantown a long time, so we have close to 10 Eagles a year.”
Achieving Eagle is a lifelong mark of distinction. Zdanis is interested in attending the Air Force Academy. His mother, Soly, explained, “When we talked to the Air Force liaison, … he said that when he’s presented with two equally qualified candidates, he’ll choose the Eagle Scout.”
“They like the leadership component,” Zdanis’ father, Richard, added.
Both parents are very proud of their son, but for Zdanis’ father, also an Eagle Scout, his son’s Eagle Project is especially meaningful.