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16-year-old is third brother to attain Eagle Scout badge

(ran EO edition)

When Andy Gris began his Scouting career, he was just another little boy in the pack, a Cub Scout in a crisp blue uniform with a yellow neckerchief in a newly formed brotherhood of fresh faces.

In the nine years that followed, many boys dropped out, but Gris worked hard to achieve the pinnacle of Scouting success: Eagle Scout.

But here's what makes this Eagle Scout story unusual: Gris, 16, is one of three members of his family to make Eagle Scout. His brothers, Charlie, 20, and A.J., 18, received the honor before him.

Brent Johnston, leader of Troop 407 in East Lake, Gris' troop, said it is unusual for three young men in one family to make Eagle Scout. He said roughly 2 percent of all Scouts stay with the program long enough to achieve this honor.

The Tarpon Springs High School junior's reward came Aug. 13, when he was lauded by friends and family during a ceremony at George Young Memorial United Methodist Church. He received congratulatory letters from several politicians, including President Clinton, Republican Sen. Connie Mack, Democratic Sen. Bob Graham and U.S. Rep. Mike Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs.

"You are to be commended for dedicating countless hours and successfully accomplishing the numerous requirements necessary to attain the highest possible Scouting honor," wrote Graham.

Said Bilirakis: "Through your project and your work within your school and community in earning your merit badges, you have made lasting contributions to our community."

But the appearance of Andy Gris' brother, Charlie, was the highlight of the ceremony. He traveled from New London, Conn., where he is a junior at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, to welcome his brother as a fellow Eagle Scout.

Andy Gris' mother, Catherine Gris, described the moment as deeply moving _ and not at all out of character for her brood.

"We realize our children are blessings. They're just nice guys," she said.

Like his brother, Charlie, before him, Gris' Eagle Scout project was the creation of a peace and prayer garden at George Young Memorial United Methodist Church. He called the project "A Place to Wait and Pray," planning and organizing its construction on his own.

He built the garden "so people in the congregation can sit and wait for their families" in a meditative setting. He filled it with flowers, purplish bromeliads and reddish agapanthus. Then he added wooden park benches.

During construction of a new sanctuary at the church, part of Charlie Gris' prayer garden had to be removed. So Gris incorporated his brother's project into his own, sprucing up the parts that were disturbed.

It was a tough and time-consuming job. Gris was responsible for landscaping, replacing a sprinkler system, building benches, painting and relocating church signs.

The project took 194 hours, or six months, to complete, and cost more than $1,400 in plants and supplies. It was a price he did not have to pay: The money was donated by the community.

The most difficult part was organizing the volunteers, trying to schedule work sessions that did not unduly affect their lives.

For his Eagle Scout project, A.J. Gris installed a playground for the Young Days Child Development Center at George Young Memorial United Methodist Church.

"It's just a natural progression at this house (to become Eagle Scouts)," Catherine Gris said. "One became an Eagle Scout, and it spurred the others on."

The entire Gris family is active in the church. Catherine Gris has sung in the choir and has taught Sunday school. Her husband, Mike Gris, was a member of the building committee that oversaw the construction of the new worship center.

Andy Gris was born in Pontiac, Mich., and came to Palm Harbor when he was 2. He joined Cub Scout Pack 407 in February 1991. In September 1995, he graduated to the Boy Scouts, earning 28 merit badges since then.

Three recognized his citizenship in the community, nation and world. Others were in the field of communications, environmental science, first aid, lifesaving and personal management.

Outside of Scouting, Gris is active in school. He is a member of the Tarpon Springs High School Outdoor Performance Ensemble, the Wind Ensemble and Jazz Band. He performed at Carnegie Hall in April along with his brother, A.J., who plays the saxophone.

He is a member of the Fellowship of Christian Students and has volunteered for the FEAST food pantry program at Manor Health Care and the Florida Irrigation Society for the Angelus home.

After graduating from high school, Gris plans to join the Air Force and become an aircraft mechanic.

His immediate plans are to "stay in my troop and help the younger boys progress in their ranks and be their mentor."

All Children's Hospital

guild meeting scheduled

The Palm Harbor Guild of All Children's Hospital is holding an open monthly meeting at 9:30 a.m. Sept. 18 at George Young Memorial United Methodist Church, 2801 East Lake Road.

The guild raises money for All Children's Hospital and assists the Ronald McDonald House. Coffee will be served. Call (727) 789-4060.

_ If you have news or photos 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, e-mail information to (sorry, we cannot receive attachments) or mail it to the North Pinellas Times, 34342 U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor, FL 34684.