“Once an Eagle, always an Eagle”

Resident and Boy Scout Matt Stilts recently reached Eagle Scout, the highest achievable rank for a Scout in the organization. 

Brian Stilts/Special to The Sun: Resident and Eagle Scout Matt Stilts poses for a photo with his finished Eagle Scout project, an animal enclosure for the Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge.

Only around 5 percent of eligible Boy Scouts earn the Eagle Scout rank, according to scoutingmagazine.org. The time and effort involved — including the completion of the required service project — can be daunting.

Yet 16-year-old Marlton resident Matt Stilts was undeterred.

A member of Mt. Laurel’s Boy Scout Troop 15, he recently earned the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest in the Boy Scouts of America. Nearly a lifelong scout, Stilts originally joined Cub Scouts in first grade, following in the footsteps of his father, Brian, who regrets not achieving the Eagle honor himself.

“I made it all the way to Life, which is the rank right below Eagle, and then I quit,” Brian Stilts admitted. “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t regret quitting and not making Eagle myself.

“I’m part of that 95 percent that goes through it but never makes it to the big show.”

In addition to the friends and connections he’s made through Boy Scouts, a standout event for Matt Stilts was attending the 2017 National Scout Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia. 

The quadrennial gathering brings together thousands of Scouts from all over the country to celebrate the group’s tradition. Over the course of the 10-day jamboree, Stilts participated in group activities, saw concerts, met fellow Scouts and heard an address from President Donald Trump.

“That was a really cool experience,” he recalled. 

When it came to his Eagle Scout project, Stilts and his father had a brainstorming session. Matt’s memories of visiting Medford’s Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge as a child and being fascinated by its animals gave him direction. His stepmother, Melanie, used to volunteer at the refuge and relayed its need for help.

After consulting with refuge staff about its needs, Stilts decided to build a new animal cage to house wildlife common at the facility, from birds to foxes.

One of the first hurdles facing an Eagle Scout hopeful is funding for the service  project. Since his project was based in Medford, Stilts started by contacting the township’s Parks and Recreation Department and coordinated a park cleanup in exchange for help  covering costs.

After working out a similar arrangement with a local restaurant and accepting some private donations, Stilts was able to raise enough for the final step in his scouting journey. Utilizing the leadership skills he acquired through the years, Stilts directed fellow Scouts in building his cage over the course of a weekend. 

“Seeing Matt in action at his Eagle project showed him as the leader he was working to become,” said Robert Reese, Stilts’ Scoutmaster in Troop 15. “As usual, he was his outgoing, friendly self making sure that everyone was actively engaged.”

Reese takes pride in Scouts like Stilts and their achievements.

“No one is more proud than me when one of our Scouts comes out of their Eagle Board of Review with the big smile indicating that they made Eagle,” Reese noted. “‘Once an Eagle, always an Eagle.’ That saying captures the fact that as the Eagle Scout moves on in life, I can rest assured that they will continue to live the principles embodied in the Scout Oath and Law.”

According to Stilts and his father, troop members are always willing to help each other, especially when it comes to completing a significant project.

“The troop really does step up,” said Brian Stilts. “When there’s an Eagle candidate working on their project, the troop comes out full force.”

Despite his new rank, Matt Stilts isn’t ending his involvement in the organization that means so much to him. The Boys Scouts of America offers several opportunities for older members to remain active; Stilts plans to become a Junior Assistant Scout Master for Troop 15.

“I plan to stay active in Scouts because I love it so much.”