WILKES-BARRE – Mark Navin proudly helped younger Boy Scouts earn their metalwork merit badge Saturday inside a Mulligan Physical Science center lab on the King's College campus. Navin is an Eagle Scout, and the college campus was filled with nearly 300 other Scouts hoping to expand their skills and achieve the same rank that Navin has.
Scouts from throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania and New York flocked to Wilkes-Barre to take part in the 15th annual Merit Badge College. Whether they were there to earn one merit badge or as many as four, the program's organizer said it is a once-a-year chance for them to obtain many of the harder-to-earn badges such as welding, architecture, dentistry and radio. And the Scouts took full advantage.
Some gathered inside college's classrooms and labs, others went to the pool and others used the facilities garage as a classroom. Some met on campus but headed into the community to businesses such as Quad3 in Wilkes-Barre and Dr. Stephen Lawrence's dental office in Kingston.
Eric Huegel, 13, of Troop 57 in Scranton, was busy bending metal and constructing a box in his metalwork merit badge workshop. The teen had climbed the Scout ranks to second class and was eyeing the next rank of first class. That would put him just two ranks shy of achieving Eagle.
Still relatively early in his Scouting career, he hoped to earn three merit badges on Saturday to add to the five he's previously received. He understood the opportunity the day-long event offered.
A lot of these badges, kids can't get anywhere else, noted organizer Dave Srebo. That's why kids come back year-after-year, he added.
The event has grown and keeps adding new merit badge offerings each year while cycling through others. Absent from this year's lineup were plumbing and journalism. In were welding, chess and electricity.
Navin, 18, of Troop 444 in Harveys Lake, earned his Eagle Scout rank in June and has 45 merit badges sewn onto his sash. Five of them were earned at previous merit badge colleges, and they're ones he would not have been able to attain anywhere else.
While it's nice to see the enthusiasm from the Scouts year after year, Srebo said it's also nice to see those community-minded individuals, some involved in Scouting, some not, lending their time and talents to help future leaders.
Earl Kugler, a retired U.S. marshal was lending his services for the fingerprinting merit badge. Attorney Ron Santora was leading the citizenship in the nation merit badge course. Veterinarian Paul Kutish was leading, naturally, the veterinary medicine merit badge program.
In the metalwork course, Stanley Bednash was at the reins. He's an original counselor, Srebo noted, meaning he's been assisting since the first Merit Badge College was offered 15 years ago.
Some merit badges were able to be earned in two hours or less. Others take the entire day, depending on their requirements and involvement. The badges are a badge of honor for Scouts, but also give them more than just a piece of fabric to sew onto their uniforms.
Merit badges are introductory learning modules that expose Scouts to a variety of trades, careers, activities, hobbies and professions through a series of experiential tasks. They vary from the fun, such as sports or chess, to those that might come in handy in life, such as emergency preparedness and lifesaving.
And the day allowed Scouts to not only increase their merit badge count, but also to make new friends, learn new skills and experience a college campus.