As the old Boy Scout adage goes, if you rub two sticks together, you get fire. But bring three or four Eagle Scouts close together and you get improvements to a local playground.
Cottage Street Park is a small, pocket park located at the corner of Hobart and Cottage Streets in the Bergen Point section of the city. Blink twice and you pass it. Except for the nearly constant sound of a bouncing basketball and the shudder of it hitting the loose metal of the hoop’s back rim, the park is usually quiet.
But on an early September day, there is also music – dance music emitting from a small boom box situated on top of a pallet load of rubber mats. Instead of the shuffle of dancing feet over the concrete and asphalt surface of the park, there is the sound of scraping and pounding, as a handful of young men work side by side with older, more seasoned workmen from a Verona-based playground installation company.
Mark Terzi, a light-skinned boy with dark curly hair, held a posthole shovel in both of his hands and shoved it down into a hole already half-dug. It is one of 14 holes located in a small patch of earth bordered on four sides by asphalt walkway, a space that had previously provided a small cropping of grass in a park largely devoid of greenery. That is, except for the green playground equipment Terzi and his companions had come here to install.
One worker peered through an engineer’s scope at the ongoing work.
“The poles have to be lined up so that the deck is level,” he explained, but that didn’t explain why the kids were there.
In truth, an axe couldn’t have been swung in the small park and not hit an Eagle Scout, all of whom had come to help Terzi earn his own Eagle ranking.
Eagle Scout is the highest rank a scout can achieve. To earn the rank of Eagle Scout, a scout must be active in the troop, demonstrate that he lives by the principles of the Scout Oath and Law in his daily life, earn a total of more than 21 merit badges in specific areas, and demonstrate leadership by organizing a community service project.
Like Terzi, the other scouts are from Post 35 out of Saint Henry’s Church.
Alex Gill, who earned his Eagle Scout distinction recently and successfully, completed a project of his own collecting backpacks of school supplies for needy children.
“He [Terzi] helped me with my project, so I figured I’d help him with his,” Gill said.
Chris Kuczynski earned his Eagle Scout distinction last year when he oversaw the reconstruction of a Little League field near the foot of the Bayonne Bridge.
The city received a grant for the project, and went out to bid, but as part of the Eagle Scout project, the young men joined in, adding a few helping hands to shorten the project from what would have normally been a two-day construction phase to one day. He got the idea for his project from the city.
“We went over to City Hall and talked to Gary Chmielewski [director of Public Works] about various projects,” he said. “He told us that the city had a grant for this but only had a few men on it, and needed a bunch of people. They also needed someone to watch the overnight drying of the rubber.”
The footing for the unit required time to set, and rather than the city paying someone to sit with it to avoid vandalism, Terzi found someone instead.
Terzi said he’d never done this kind of thing before.
“What surprised me was the amount of work it takes to dig the holes,” he said.
One of the other scouts mumbled, calling it “exercise.”
The one-time Nascar-bound teen, Terzi more recently had his eye on a career as an entrepreneur.
“What surprised me was the amount of work it takes to dig the holes.” – Mark Terzi
Since one of the key elements for an Eagle Scout project is being able to organize and lead others, Terzi then was faced with the challenge of getting other people involved.
First, he turned to his scout troop and enlisted some of those whom he had helped in the past on their own projects. Then he called on his friends to help with the after-school shift. Terzi attends Bayonne High School as a junior and said he had to call in some favors to get non-scouts to join in.
“But they owe me already, so it’s no big deal,” he said with a laugh. “Most of the people here right now are from Prep [St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City] because they don’t start school until tomorrow.”
“Rounding up Boy Scout members isn’t hard because we all stick together and help each other out with each other’s projects, but getting friends involved is harder,” he continued. “I basically asked them all for favors. But I think they owe me enough.”
Paperwork has increased over the last few years, and Terzi had to file forms that included a variety of criteria, such as the scope of the project, its cost, its phases, its outcome and benefits to the local community.
“This helps the kids here,” he said, talking about the positive impact that addition equipment will have on the local area.
“The process has changed since I did [my Eagle Scout project],” said Kuczynski.
Tom Sangiacomo, owner of Sports & Golf Solutions, said his company is a certified playground installation company that installs equipment for Playworld.
“The equipment guys worked with the township and then called us in to give them a price for the installation,” Sangiacomo said. “We’ve worked with a lot of community organizations over the years so when we heard that the scouts were involved, we were delighted.”
A small unit like this one usually takes two days to install.
“But we have a lot of scouts and a lot of extra help. So we’ll likely be done by the end of the day,” he said, joking that he had made it to Weeblo when he was a kid, the lowest ranking in the cub scouts. “This is my first Eagle Scout project.”