Haddon Heights Scout Completes Her Eagle Project, Landscaping Knight Park WWII Monument


Fifteen-year-old Emily Connolly of Haddon Heights says the project harnessed all the skills and techniques she’d learned in years with Scouting America.

By Matt Skoufalos | June 7, 2024

Troop 67 Collingswood WWII Memorial Clean-up. Credit: Rob Velez.

Throughout her childhood, Emily Connolly has grown up around scouting.

The fifteen-year-old Haddon Heights resident is a three-sport athlete who describes herself as “an I’ll-do-anything person.”

She’s spent years watching her cousins earn their Eagle Scout ranks with the help of their mom, her aunt Lorraine Hoilien.

When her own brother joined Cub Scouts, Connolly said she begged her mom to be allowed to join “for months.” Until as recently as 2018, however, that wouldn’t have been possible.

That was the year that Scouting America (formerly Scouting BSA, or Boy Scouts of America), created the opportunities for scout leaders to form co-ed “packs,” clearing a pathway for girls to develop civic, vocational, technological, and maritime skills alongside their male counterparts.

“I can do first aid on anyone with an injury,” Connolly said. “I can save anyone from drowning in the lake. I’ve camped over 20 times. I’ve hiked through the Appalachian Mountains.

“I’ve had so many amazing experiences through scouting, and I like that I got to experience these things alongside my cousins,” she said.

After compiling so many achievements into her scouting resume, there was only one thing left for Connolly to approach: her Eagle project.

She talked it over with Troop #67 leader, Scout Master David Bergstralh of Collingswood, who told her that Knight Park is home to several amenities in need of a clean-up. After considering a few options, she settled on the World War II Memorial at the intersection of Collings Avenue and West Browning Road.

“I walk through Knight Park all the time, I always see these monuments, and it needs a lot of help,” Connolly said.

“It was really overgrown and dull, and didn’t have a lot of color,” she said. “You couldn’t see any of the names for the weeds. The mulch was about 12 inches too high, so we had to dig it out, and dig holes for new plants and flowers.”


Emily Connolly and her Eagle Scout volunteer team. Credit: Rob Velez.

Local landscape architect Steven Masullo of Silver Oak Design helped Connolly design a display of native plantings to include at the memorial, including cherry laurels, oak leaf hollies, abelia, rose bushes, vinca, and small perennials.

Masullo also helped her acquire the greenery at a discount that fit her budget, a critical factor in Eagle projects, which are donation-based. Local contributions from friends, neighbors, and community groups like Haddon Heights Neighbors and the Haddon Heights Republican Club comprise her donors.

Connolly collaborated with Bobby Hastings of Collingswood Public Works to fit her project application to borough requirements, and learned perseverance, as she drew and redrew her plans four times until they fit the space. She also rallied a work crew of 15 volunteers for a nine-hour work day to implement the project, and led them through the plan while putting her back into the work alongside them.

“I’ve always been an outdoorsy person,” Connolly said. “That took me through scouting. I don’t think that if I had had the leadership skills I learned in scouting that I would be able to lead such a big project with so many people.”

Moreover, Connolly is aware that without the realignment of Scouting America that eliminated gendered differences in scouting curricula, she wouldn’t have had the opportunity to pursue an Eagle project.

Connolly is the only girl on her mother’s side of the family to pursue an Eagle project, but she isn’t the only girl in Troop #67, nor the youngest to complete an Eagle project. That distinction goes to Emilia Bergstralh, who in 2021 became the first female Eagle Scout in New Jersey (also completing a project in Knight Park).

“I feel like [scouting is] very open now, and it wasn’t before,” she said. “Eagle Scout project and Gold Award projects [the Girl Scout equivalent] are just as hard.”

Emily Connolly led her fellow Troop 67 scouts through the cleanup of the WWII Memorial in Knight Park, Collingswood. Credit: Rob Velez.

Bergstralh said Connolly is the kind of person who not only exemplifies the virtues of scouting, but who wouldn’t have had the same opportunities to realize her potential in the prior gender-segregated scouting alignments.

“One of the issues is that the Eagle Scout badge is so prestigious,” he said.

“How do you equalize that for the girls? You let them earn an Eagle Scout badge too.”

Another reason fewer Girl Scouts complete Gold Award projects than Boy Scouts complete Eagle projects is that their troop enrollments “drop precipitously after Brownies,” Bergstralh said.

“There are very few girls who stay in, and you have to be a junior or senior in high school to do [a Gold Award project],” he said. “I love seeing Eagle scouts at 14 and 15.”

Like his own daughter, Connolly had designs on an Eagle project almost from the moment of joining the troop, Bergstralh said. After working her way up the ranks, she told him, “It’s time to do a project. Let’s do something.”

Connolly’s efforts weren’t only representative of the best in scouting, he said, they also touched the hearts of local veterans who thanked her for organizing and leading the work. Moreover, Bergstralh said they are the first step in a lifelong commitment to service.

“It’s a daunting thing for a 15-year-old to look at, but it’s a training ground,” he said. “When you’re an Eagle scout, you help with all the others. It’s nonstop, and it’s a lifestyle. You learn to identify a problem in your community, gather resources, and fix it.”

U.S. Marine Corps veteran Rob Velez of Collingswood, who volunteers with the borough American Legion Tatem-Shields Post 17, said that not only was he impressed with Connolly’s demeanor on the job site, but that her work had an emotional impact for local veterans.

The timing of Connolly’s efforts was especially apt, as the project wrapped ahead of the anniversary of D-Day, the Normandy invasion, in time for the veterans to see the World War II monument refreshed.

“She was in charge of that project,” Velez said. “She was directing it; she was working hard. The leadership skills were pretty impressive, especially for a teenager. It was a great project, and I know all the people at the Legion Hall really appreciate it.”

Emily Connolly poses with her Eagle Scout project at the WWII Memorial in Knight Park. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Collingswood Commissioner Rob Lewandowski, himself a U.S. Navy veteran, said that Connolly’s Eagle Scout project reflects the ideals of service shared not only by Scouting America, but by American military veterans the world over.

“It’s such a gift to the community that this young woman would do what she did, and I hope she gets something out of it as well,” Lewandowski said.

“One of the reasons Collingswood has succeeded is because of folks with caring, creative vision to do what’s needed,” he said.

“In the task of doing for others, we’re also learning the lessons from our veterans: we can all sacrifice a little to follow their lead and give something to others.”

For Connolly, completing the monument restoration felt like a true capstone of her scouting experience. Seeing the finished work and considering the investment of time made her reflect on the effort it took to realize her vision.

“I feel amazing,” she said. “I’m happy that the monument really came out like I wanted it to. I had friends alongside me, and family empowering me too. That’s one of the reasons I was able to achieve such a big goal.

“My community has given me everything, and it’s really nice to pay it back and pay it forward,” Connolly said.

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