Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Playground project lets Scout turn work into play

(ran EO edition)

A.J. Gris' mantra is "always finish what you have started."

On a weekend in April he did just that, finishing work on a playground at the Young Days Child Development Center at his church, George Young Memorial United Methodist Church in East Lake. He was helped by dozens of volunteers.

"It's beautiful," said Catherine Gris, A.J.'s mother, who lives in Palm Harbor with her husband, Mike. "It benefits the church and the preschool and saves the church thousands of dollars."

His reward for the hard work came July 5 when he received his Eagle Scout rank at a court of honor in front of 90 friends, relatives and fellow Scouts from East Lake's Boy Scout Troop 407.

Bagpipes played in the background.

A special guest at the ceremony was A.J.'s brother Charlie, a cadet at the Coast Guard Academy, who attended with the rest of the Gris family.

The ceremony was postponed so Charlie Gris could come home and attend.

"He helped present the award to his brother," Catherine Gris said.

Charlie Gris became an Eagle Scout years ago. Andy, the youngest Gris boy, is on the road toward becoming an Eagle Scout. He has earned his Life Scout rank, which is the last step before Eagle Scout.

"They all love community service," Catherine Gris said. Scouting "is a nice family activity," she said.

During the ceremony, A.J. received congratulatory letters from national leaders, including President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton and was given a flag that had been flown over the Capitol in Washington, D.C., courtesy of Congressman Mike Bilirakis.

He also received congratulatory notes from Gov. Jeb Bush, U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, state Sen. Jack Latvala and state Rep. Gus Bilirakis.

A.J. began his Scouting career when he was in first grade. Now 16, he will enter his junior year at Tarpon Springs High School this month.

He has worked his way through the ranks, earning 21 merit badges. He has served as a troop chaplain's aide, quartermaster and patrol leader on his way toward earning his Eagle rank.

A 12-year member of George Young Memorial, he chose to oversee the installation of $50,000 worth of playground equipment at its preschool for his Eagle project. He arranged for the donation of sod, pieces of heavy equipment and operators to drive them.

"They had a playground, but it was not adequate," A.J. said.

This new playground with its minivillage, tire swing and slides has "worked out," A.J. said, and "everyone is glad for the new equipment."

"It's set up like a minitown with different buildings: a gas station, sheriff's house and a water play station with flowing water so the kids can play with the water," he said.

The Rev. James Rosenburg, pastor of the church, is impressed with A.J.'s efforts, describing the playground as "very creative."

"He needed an Eagle Scout project, and we needed a playground," Rosenburg said. "He did a great job."

Gris said the most challenging aspect of the project was assembling the team of people who would help him complete it. He had to assign tasks to 80 to 100 volunteers he recruited from the preschool, the church and his school's marching band program and make sure they were fed.

A.J. did finish what he started: All the playground equipment was placed on the church grounds in April. The playground itself, however, is still not completed.

"We're putting a tricycle path in it so kids can go fill up at the filling station and ride to the store, the schoolhouse, police station, a bunch of little things," Rosenburg said. "When it's done, it's going to be wonderful."

Scout training has led to A.J. becoming involved in his community, volunteering at Manor Health Care, Florida Irrigation Society, the Angelus, FEAST and the Salvation Army.

He was chosen to attend the St. Petersburg Times-sponsored Poynter Institute for talented young writers and is a member of the Duke University Talent Identification program.

He is a member of the Tarpon Springs High Outdoor Performance Ensemble and the school's symphonic band, playing alto saxophone. That band has been invited to play at Carnegie Hall in New York City on April 26.

Eagle-minded Boy Scout

organizes big book sale

Friends of the East Lake Community Library and Boy Scout Patrick Farnham have formed a partnership that will result in a huge book sale and could result in Patrick earning an Eagle Scout rank.

The community book sale, organized by Patrick, a member of Boy Scout Troop 407, will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 28 at George Young Memorial United Methodist Church on East Lake Road. All proceeds will help the Friends reach its goal of $100,000 to furnish the library under construction on East Lake Road.

"He's doing a wonderful job," said Chris Marszalek, director of the East Lake Community Library. "He's probably the most driven kid I've ever met. He's put so much energy into it."

Patrick could not be reached for comment about his project. Late last week, he left to attend Camp Sand Hill, a Boy Scout camp near Weeki Wachee, where he will stay for about a week.

But before he left, Patrick stayed busy preparing for the sale, designing and distributing fliers and posters, and sending letters describing the event to local churches and schools.

His mother is proud.

"He's really growing, becoming responsible," Karen Farnham said. "It's amazing how he has changed since he was a Cub Scout."

Karen Farnham said her son already has dedicated 55 hours to the book sale project.

"They like it to be around 120 hours,' she said.

She has no doubt Patrick will meet the Eagle Scout requirements, saying, "He's worked hard."

"So many boys get to this level and don't execute their project," she said.

If all goes according to plan, Patrick will earn Eagle Scout by Thanksgiving.

East Lake cheerleaders win Champion Chant

East Lake High School varsity and junior varsity cheerleaders attended a National Cheerleader Association summer camp July 31 through Tuesday at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

For four days, the cheerleaders learned cheers, chants, dances, jumps and stunts they will use during games beginning this month. At the end of camp, 460 cheerleaders from as far away as St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, competed for awards.

For the third consecutive year, the varsity squad brought home the Champion Chant trophy. The junior varsity squad won the trophy for being most improved, and both squads received spirit stick awards.

Nine girls on the varsity squad were nominated by National Cheerleader Association staff members to try out for the All-American Award.

They were Sarah Chionchio, Brianne Gallivan, Rachael Luxenberg, Mandy Pusatera, Jen Smith, Megan Snare, Christy Takacs, Keely Watts and Sarah Bunner.

Four junior varsity squad members also were nominated. They were Ashlee Eberhardt, Takara Fuller, Alicia Roeding and Jen Santoro.

Three girls who won the title of All-American were Megan Snare, Sarah Bunner and Fuller. Snare is now a three-time All-American.

_ We need news for this East Lake column. If you have news about East Lake organizations, churches, schools, neighborhoods or residents, please contact Eileen Schulte at the North Pinellas Times. You may call her at (727) 445-4229, fax material to her at (727) 445-4206 or mail it to the North Pinellas Times, 34342 U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor, FL 34684.