Earning Eagle Scout rank is not an easy challenge and his project was a challenge to raise money and awareness. Local troop 553 scout Erik Rychlewski completed his eagle project with a Wheel-a-thon raising awareness of challenges those with disabilities overcome daily and money for RAMP.
Rychlewski, a junior at DeKalb High School, earned his eagle scout in June 2017. His path to eagle rank began almost two years prior when he completed his project in October 2015. He hosted a wheel-a-thon at Cooper Park in Rochelle allowing scouts, their families and community members an opportunity to wheel through a two-mile obstacle course.
“My eagle project was based on the struggles I saw my mother go through as I was growing up and then my grandparents became ill and their physical conditions deteriorated requiring assistive devices and help. My mom has cerebral palsy and it’s very difficult for her to walk, yet she works full time, provides for me and others and volunteers many hours to give back to the community,” explained Rychlewski.
Rychlewski is the son of Betsy Rychlewski and Jim Rychlewski.
RAMP, Regional Access Mobility Program, provided 22 wheel chairs for individuals to wheel themselves around the course on the day of the fundraiser. Rychlewski’s eagle project not only raised awareness but also raised about $1,000 for RAMP. RAMP is a center for independent living allowing individuals with disabilities to live as normal of a life as possible.
RAMP opened in 1980 and was the second Center for Independent Living in Illinois. The center serves individuals with disabilities in Boone, DeKalb, Stephenson and Winnebago counties.
“I wanted my peers and others to see that their struggles are real and that we must be empathetic and offer help to these individuals,” added Rychlewski.
Individuals who completed the course, came to the finish line worn out and with their eyes opened to the struggles others face on a daily basis.
Comments from participants included: “I didn’t think it would be so hard to push yourself in a wheelchair.” “This is really tiring.” “There was a crack on the sidewalk and that was hard to get through.”
Prior to the October wheel-a-thon, Rychlewski spent two months preparing for the project and getting approval for the project to count as an eagle project. During that time, Rychlewski also spent time with young adults in a day care program in Geneva to better understand the spectrum of disabilities.
After he completed the project it took Rychlewski a year to finish the process. Once a scout has completed their eagle project, they then have a lot of paper work to fill out, have a scout master conference, pass a border review and earn badges. In addition to completing a service project boy scouts must earn 21 merit badges, 13 are required. There are 120 total badges that a boy scout may earn. Required badges include: first aid, citizenship in the community, citizenship in the nation, citizenship in the world, communications, environmental science, family life, personal management and emergency preparedness or lifesaving.
“The hardest aspect was making sure I had all my badges in order – there was some administrative delays as well as my delay in writing my project.” Rychlewski added, “trust me – I have several versions of my Eagle Scout write up. It was a tough process yet a learning one too. At times, I thought to myself – I’m never going to get through this but I’m so glad I did.
The last step for a scout before earning eagle rank is presenting before a board of review. The board members consist of adults who are actively involved in the local troop.
Prospective eagle scouts can choose individuals who had an impact on their scouting career and lives to serve on the board of review.
Rychlewski explained, “My Board of Review consisted of: Robin Redington – she has been one of the troops trainers, specifically in the communications badges. Redington provided encouragement and guidance as these badges required speaking, attending community meetings and lots of paper work. She never gave up on me. Rob Rose – he was the scout master whereby I attained my most scouting badges. Rose was relentless and provided support and at times would even pick me up at home to attend meetings. He explained the importance of attending the January Meetings Badge Merit Days. He is responsible for having taught me many life skills.
Kurt Simmons – I can’t thank him enough for having confidence in me and often saying ‘come on Erik you could do this’. Simmons provided many hours of volunteerism and helping the scouts. Chris Sedlock the newest of our scout assistance parents also kept me on track to get my badges. Rick Rhoades was the district representative. Mr. Rhoads is another excellent role model and truly dedicated to scouting and helping boys become young men through scouting.”
Rychlewski officially earned his eagle scout in June and celebrated on Aug. 9. Only two percent of boys enrolled in boy scouts have earned their eagle rank since 1912.
“I have always had the support and encouragement of my mom and my Aunt Maribel. My Scoutmaster’s Mr. Kyle Flannigan, Mr. Rob Rose and Mr. Kurt Simmons, Mrs. Reddington, Mr. Rick Rhoades and Mr. Ken Stahl from the Masons, all played a huge role in my Eagle Scout Process,” stated Rychlewski. “I would like to say a huge Thank You to all and I couldn’t have accomplished this by myself. These individuals truly give of their time and their heart to help the troop, the young boys and teach them many life skills that they will use and remember for the rest of their lives. I did my project on Make a Difference Day and they all do make a difference.”
Fellow Eagle Scouts present the color guard and the Rochelle Masons presented Rychlewski with a plaque in honor of his Eagle Scout Rank.
“To my surprise it was very humbling and I was honored in a huge way,” stated Rychlewski.
Rychlewski was blessed to have an aunt attend the celebration from Puerto Rico, an uncle came up from Houston, Texas and his only grandparent alive, Vincent Rychlewski, was present along with many local friends, family and scout members.
Betsy Rychlewski stated, “what this rank means to me as his mom is that over ten years Erik was able to accomplish these requirements on his own. This was his goal and he did it. I am so proud of his accomplishments and he is seeing the positive effects of having reached the rank of Eagle.”
Rychlewski joined scouts in second grade after the scout master presented at his school. From that year on, his parents and Rychlewski made it a priority for him to attend scouting meetings and events.
Rychlewski’s favorite aspect of scouting since the first year have been growing through the ranks and levels associated with boy scouts.
“What I learned throughout the different ranks ultimately all blended and became a part of the National Youth Leadership Training (NYLT) camp,” He explained.
While Rychlewski has enjoyed all of his scouting trips and has memories from each one, the highlight of camping trips for him is the NYLT.
“I was so excited about this leadership training and felt so good of my accomplishments that I had hoped to go back as a counselor but haven’t had the chance to do so. However, it has motivated me to plan on attending the camping trip in New Mexico,” he added.
Some activities he did while on the camping trip included: Learning to put up a tent, cooking, swimming, communications of the world, nation, citizenship, first aid and archery. All activities include aspects of leadership, responsibility, accountability and team work.
The Rochelle Masons play a big role in troop 553 by supporting the boys and providing a place for the group meetings.
“The Masons have also been extremely helpful in helping our troop and providing us with a place to call home for our troop. I would like to personally thank them for all their help and support,” stated Rychlewski. “I would like to become a Mason once I’m an established adult so that I too may continue to give back to the community.”
“Erik is a nice young man. He has learned many things from scouting and applying them to his life whether he’s aware of it or not,” Betsy Rychlewski said. “Erik is a kind and caring young man. When you first meet, Erik is shy and quiet but once he knows someone he opens up. Erik is fully bilingual – my mom lived with us and only spoke Spanish to him. His grandmother was his biggest fan. Unfortunately, she passed away March 1, 2017 and he helped her getting into and out of her wheelchair and was the last one to put her in bed before she died.”
“Fellow scouts keep up the good work – and let achieving eagle scout rank be a goal for you. In addition, share with your family and friends what eagle scout rank is, how it’s achieved and that it is truly an honor to achieve such rank,” Rychlewski added.