Emerson Ball, 17, a Boy Scout with Troop 163, collected and refurbished used bicycle helmets for people in the Bridgeport area who depend on cycling to commute to their jobs and to attend college classes. It was a joint effort with Golden Hill Methodist Church in Bridgeport and Phil Philbrick of Monroe, who has been collecting used bicycles for those in need over the past 16 years.
"I served on the lower East Side of Bridgeport and knew people who could only get to work and school on a bicycle," said Father Skip Karscinski, parochial vicar of in Monroe.
The helmet drive was Ball's Eagle Scout Project. Philbrick serves as assistant scoutmaster with the troop.
Ball, a student at Fairfield Preparatory High School, displayed leadership by organizing the project and supervising volunteers, who cleaned and painted helmets at his house. His older brothers also pitched in by giving him rides when there were donations to collect.
A ceremony was held at St. Jude Church on Sunday afternoon to award Ball his Eagle pin. Prior to pursuing his Eagle, a Boy Scout must earn at least 21 merit badges. Nationwide, only about three percent of Boy Scouts earn an Eagle — Scouting's highest honor.
Assistant Scoutmaster Sal Morabito said 21 U.S. senators, over 90 congressmen and over 80 military officers are former Boy Scouts who earned their Eagle. Notable people earning the honor include President Gerald Ford, Astronaut Neil Armstrong, legendary news anchor Walter Cronkite and movie director Steven Spielberg.
Assistant Scoutmaster Bill Fromm said the white in the badge's ribbon stands for honor, the blue loyalty and the red courage. The metal inscription above the tri-colored ribbon says "Be Prepared." Fromm said that referrs to the responsibility and training to handle emergencies.
During the ceremony, Philbrick read letters of congratulations to Ball from President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Governor Dannel P. Malloy and a citation from the State of Connecticut General Assembly signed by Monroe's delegation: Rep. DebraLee Hovey, Sen. Kevin Kelly and Sen. Anthony Musto.
A captain serving in Afghanistan also relayed a message to Ball on how he gained more of an appreciation for the Eagle he had earned while applying some of his Scouting skills in the military.
Representatives of the Connecticut Yankee Council's Pomperaug District presented Ball with an Eagle Scout Yankee Council Strip and a National Catholic Committee on Scouting certificate.
Scoutmaster Jay Huggins said Ball's willingness to reach out and help younger Scouts stood out. But for all of Ball's achievements, fellow Boy Scout Matt Morabito, who also , shared another side of Ball.
"He is a very intelligent young man, then there's the other side of Emerson ... the goofy side," Morabito said with a grin. "That's why we love him."
Morabito shared a story of the troop's trip to Maine when Ball opened his mouth to eat fish they had caught only for a fly to buzz in — he swallowed it. And the time he scrawled "intelligent notes" all over a board only to realize he had done so with a permanent marker.
The latter story showed Ball's determination. He had left a meeting and was missing for an hour. Morabito said fellow Scouts found him scrubbing the notes with soapy water. "He did the impossible," Morabito said. "He actually erased permanent marker. Emerson never gives up."
Ball's parents David and Julie attended the ceremony, which included an Opening Declaration by Master of Ceremonies Andrew Smith, an opening by the Honor Guard and an Invocation and Benediction by Fr. Karscinski. Speakers included Committee Chairman Jim Wendt and Assistant Scoutmaster John Quinlavin.