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Scouting doesn’t stop: Teen donates masks as part of Eagle Scout project

Jessica Witkowski stands with Chad Culver of West Hickory Haven Nursing Center in Milford. Witkowski donated 300 fabric masks to the facility as part of her Eagle Scout project. She hopes to become part of the inaugural class of female Eagle Scouts.

The coronavirus pandemic isn’t stopping Jessica Witkowski from completing her Eagle Scout project.

In fact, her project will help workers at the frontlines of COVID-19, as well as local seniors.

For her Eagle Scout Project, Witkowski sewed and donated 600 fabric masks to local senior living facilities and centers in an effort to help reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Beneficiaries included the West Hickory Haven Nursing Center in Milford, who received 300 masks; Village Manor Retirement in Howell, who received 200 masks; and the Hartland Senior Center, who received 100 masks.

Chad Culver, of West Hickory Haven Nursing Center, says the facility has approximately 135 employees and 91 residents who will all be using the masks. They offer long and short-term care, as well as long-term rehab.

“The outpouring of community support has been fantastic,” he said. “We’ve had many donations of masks, this is one of our bigger donations. This just helps protect our staff and residents, and we can’t thank everybody enough for everything that they’re doing for us.”

Witkowski has been a part of Scouts BSA since February of 2019, shortly after the Boys Scouts of America began welcoming both boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 17. The first class of female Eagle Scouts, the organization’s coveted highest rank, will be recognized later this year.

Witkowski hopes to join the inaugural class of female Eagle Scouts. Board of review at the council for the inaugural class will take place October 1-31. Scouts must reach Life Scout rank and finish their Eagle Scout project and rank advancement before October in order to be qualified.

Why Scouts?

Witkowski, a sophomore at Hartland High School, says she decided to join the Scouts because of the environmental aspects of the program, as well as the strong emphasis on leadership, life skills and a variety of environmental and nature-related opportunities. She plans to study environmental science, park management or wildlife biology in college, though she hasn’t made any decisions yet.

“I really like the environmental aspect of the program and the life skills that I learned through scouting. I think it’s a great opportunity,” she said. “You have an excuse to go outside, go camping, earn merit badges based on environmental science, which is something I hope to major in college.”

Three other female Life Scouts in all-girl BSA Troop 2191 are also pursing the rank of Eagle Scout, though their efforts have temporarily been put on hold due to COVID-19.

Witkowski had originally planned to construct a bench and was in communication with Hartland’s Settlers Park, but followed the suggestion of her scoutmaster, Tami Curtis, to make masks shortly after things were shutdown.

She prepared and delivered material kits to the nearly 30 volunteers who helped sew the masks, and created a project timeline based on shelter in place orders and safe handling of materials.

Lynnette Connor, the subject matter expert for the project, made a video tutorial to teach volunteers how to sew the masks, donated fabric and elastic, as well as sewed a large quantity of masks and recruited volunteers from her sewing community.

“She even made personal masks for each member of my family,” Witkowski said. “I truly appreciate all of Mrs. Connor’s efforts and kindness to help me succeed with this project.”

Sheila Witkowski, Jessica’s mother, said: “I am so impressed with the teenagers that have volunteered their time and efforts to help create these facemasks. From cutting fabric and elastic for the materials kits, to actually sewing the face masks, these teenagers did a great job: Chase Guelette, Marieka Battaglia, Alex Cole, Trevor Hogland, Anna Wieczorek, Andrew Barrett, Faith Schniers, Kasi Waldi, Michaela King, Rachel Bernia, Rebekah Bernia, Sarah Bernia, Meah Schniers, Annah Stang, Erynn Dawson and Logan Dawson.”

Fabric was donated by Jo-Ann Fabrics and Walmart of Howell, and Curtis donated thread. Without the need to fundraise, Witkowksi was able to start, and finish, the project sooner.

‘A great opportunity’

The opportunity to join Scouts BSA, says Curtis, is a great opportunity for young women to gain leadership skills. The first class of female scouts, she says, have jumped right in.

Last September, Troop 2191 awarded 114 merit badges to eight girls. Witkowski has 20.

“It’s awesome seeing all the excitement in all these young ladies as they approach their next challenge, whether it’s a STEM project or an outdoor project. The girls have been so driven and motivated, they all just jumped right into the program and applied themselves. They were so excited, you couldn’t slow them down.”

It’s estimated that more than 14,000 girls are enrolled in Scouts BSA over 1,900 troops nationwide.

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