Scouting to the top

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In the beginning of 2013, Zeb Smetak, a 19-year-old Life Scout with Down syndrome, decided to become an Eagle Scout, something fewer than 5 percent of Boy Scouts accomplish. And this fall, he did.

Zeb, a happy, young man has been involved with the Boy Scouts for nearly 11 years. Steadily he worked his way through the ranks, but with his disabilities, and visual communication style, he and his family never imagined being an Eagle Scout would be a rank he could obtain.

“When we first put him in Cub Scouts we didn’t know what an Eagle Scout was, and as we went along a few adults encouraged me to help him get his Eagle,” said Cindy Smetak, Zeb’s mother.

To become an Eagle Scout, a Life Scout must initiate, manage and complete a committee-approved service project within the community. For Zeb, choosing his project was an easy task.

“When it came time to pick an Eagle Project, I thought it would be a good idea for him to have some ‘ownership’ in his project,” said Smetak. “I put together all the places we enjoy hiking and of the list he picked Two Ponds.”

After finalizing the project in April, Zeb began working. For more than 130 hours he photographed and measured the area at Two Ponds National Wildlife Refuge, 9210 West 80th Ave.; researched tools and materials needed for the project; and built a picture book of how the project needed to be done.

Throughout the process he met with area sponsors, Eagle Scout committees, his troupe leader, Ken Kinnard, and with the Two Ponds Refuge Manager, Seth Beres, to craft a project that would fit Zeb and the Eagle Scout requirements.

“This project provides community service while giving scouts a chance to participate and help out with the community’s needs,” Kinnard said. “Leadership and Management is what the Eagle Scout program is about for these boys.”

The project was set for two days in mid-September, and despite the record-breaking rains, Zeb led and oversaw 30 volunteers stain trail ties and clean up and clear trails around Marshall Pond at the Two Ponds refuge, to complete his Eagle Scout project.

“These projects help us accomplish tasks we can’t often accomplish on our own,” Beres said. “With this help, we are able to improve our wildlife habitat and the trail infrastructure.”

Zeb is currently working toward earning his last two merit badges and finalizing his project report. Once completed, he will go before a committee to discuss his project and become an official Eagle Scout.

“Seeing Zeb excel with his disabilities and leading the project was wonderful,” Kinnard said.

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