Westhampton girl aims for scouting’s top honor

  • Ella Cleary, who is about to become the first female Eagle Scout in her town of Westhampton, poses with her merit badges and Scout uniform at the public library, where she recently installed 13 benches as part of her Eagle Scout project. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • Tom Clearly, father of Ella Cleary, who is seeking to become the first female Eagle Scout in Westhampton, points at one of Ella’s merit badges which was earned during the pandemic lockdown. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • Eighth grader Ella Cleary, who is set to become the first female Eagle Scout in Westhampton, sits on one of 13 benches she helped build for the Westhampton Public Library. The benches are part of Ella’s Scouts community project. She raised over $2,000 and led more than 20 volunteers in building the benches over the course of the summer. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

Staff Writer
Published: 11/28/2021 6:31:41 PM
Modified: 11/28/2021 6:31:13 PM

WESTHAMPTON — A 13-year-old from Westhampton may be associated with more than a dozen new benches in town, but that doesn’t mean she’s sitting on the sidelines.

After orchestrating the building of 13 benches that are positioned around the grounds of the town’s public library, Ella Cleary has her sights on making history in her town by becoming the first female Eagle Scout.

Cleary first entered the world of Scouting as a Girl Scout. While there were aspects that she enjoyed, she said she found the activities that her brothers, Carter and William, would engage in for Boy Scouts to be more interactive and adventurous. Among some of the more notable experiences she had with the Boy Scouts was when she was able to go on outdoor camping trips, whitewater rafting and an indoor ropes course.

As such, she would tag along with her brothers in the Cub Scouts when she was 4 years old and ended up leaving Girl Scouts when she was still a Brownie.

At the time, programs with the Boy Scouts of America were not open to girls, which meant that even though Cleary could participate in the activities in Troop 0209, she could not earn ranks or merit badges.

“I still really enjoyed everything I was doing,” she said.

In October 2017, Cleary was able to officially join Cub Scouts after the Boy Scouts of America announced that its board of directors had unanimously approved welcoming girls into the Scouts program. As soon as she was eligible, Cleary began accumulating merit badges rather quickly.

In 2019, the Scouts BSA program was launched and Cleary began working on creating the first all-girl Scouts troop in the BSA-designated Metacomet District, which includes the city of Holyoke and communities in Hampshire and Franklin counties. Although she was able to recruit a handful of girls to Troop 5209, the pandemic has kept any participation at a distance. And while coronavirus has presented some challenges in achieving in-person endeavors, Cleary said that BSA provided opportunities for Scouts to earn more merit badges, including one related to jobs like plumbing and coding.

In reaching for her goal of becoming an Eagle Scout — the highest ranking an individual can earn in Boy Scouts — Cleary noticed that the benches at Westhampton Public Library were deteriorating and rotting. The benches are often used for outdoor events like storytime and concerts held on the library property.

To earn a ranking of Eagle, Scouts need to fulfill several requirements, including securing 21 merit badges, a board of review and plan, develop, and give leadership to others as part of a beneficial community service project.

Once the bench project was approved, Cleary walked all over town and wrote letters seeking donations to fund the purchase of lumber to construct and install new benches. Her goal was to raise $900, but she ended up raising $2,000. From there, Cleary assembled a team of 21 volunteers to assist in her endeavor. Constructing the legs of the bench was the hardest part, she said. The benches were completed and installed in late October.

“More than anything, I learned how important it is to plan ahead when organizing so many people,” she said. “But it’s really good to know that I was able to do this when I’m 13.”

While she still has to submit her official application that includes an essay, Cleary is still on track to achieve her goal of being the first female Eagle Scout in Westhampton.

The first girl to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout in the Western Massachusetts Council is from Troop 180G in Ludlow, which is part of the General Knox District, according to Lynsey Brodeur, administrative assistant for the Western Massachusetts Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

There is also one more girl from Troop 124G in Westfield working toward becoming an Eagle Scout, she added.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com


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