Two Arlington Heights girls make history by earning Eagle Scout rank
A pair of Arlington Heights girls joined a historic group last month when they were honored as members of the first class of female Eagle Scouts in the country.
Madeline Painter and Skye Sonnabend are among the first 1,000 girls nationwide to achieve the rank, and among the first 14 female Eagles in the Pathway to Adventure Council, which takes in more than 20,000 Scouts across Cook and Lake counties and Northwest Indiana.
Both girls joined Scouting as soon as the national organization opened it up, starting in February of 2019. They joined Boy Scout Troop 32, sponsored by First Presbyterian Church of Arlington Heights, which was among the first troops locally to accept girls.
"Troop 32 is a place all types of Scouts can succeed," says Scoutmaster Patrick Painter, "boys or girls, high achievers or more relaxed personalities, outdoor types or more studious."
While the boys and girls in the troop meet together, the girls lead their own patrol and operate under the name G32. However, the requirements are the same for boys and girls in order to advance rank.
"It's great that the program has now been opened up to all youth," adds Assistant Scoutmaster Dan Sioui, "and we are happy that we can provide the framework for this."
Even so, aiming to become an Eagle Scout, the program's highest rank, was ambitious. Nationally, only 6% of Scouts achieve it, council members say.
To earn the rank, a Scout has to take on leadership roles within the troop and their community; earn a minimum of 21 merit badges that include first aid safety, civics, business, and the environment; and complete a large community service project.
Both Madeline and Skye were up for the challenge, and keenly aware of the historic nature of their quest.
"Being in the inaugural female Eagle Scout class seemed like this crazy goal, but I love to go for what seems impossible," says Skye, a freshman at Hersey High School. "It was like a race against time."
Madeline, whose father is the Scoutmaster, seemed particularly driven to achieve the goal. As an eighth-grader at South Middle School, she was one of the youngest in the inaugural class.
"The rank itself is very prestigious," Madeline said, "but I also wanted to be a part of history."
Both girls chose to work with nature in completing their Eagle Scout projects, building on all the outdoor skills they had learned in Scouting.
Skye led members of her troop in building raised garden beds outside the Viator House of Hospitality. The residence is led by Fr. Corey Brost, a Viatorian priest, and it supports young asylum-seekers while they await their case.
The young men go to school and work part-time jobs, but they are always looking for ways to give back. The gardens will allow them to grow vegetables, which they intend to donate to Catholic Charities in Des Plaines.
"I enjoy the outdoors and the science behind the plants," Skye said, "and especially during COVID-19, this seemed like the perfect project."
Madeline led Scouts and other volunteers in removing an invasive plant species, teasel, and replacing it with a native plant, brown fox sedge, on sections of land along McDonald Creek in Arlington Heights and Lake Arlington.
"It's important to me to keep the environment safe and healthy," Madeline says, "and with the help of 20 volunteers working a total of 130 hours, I was able to do my part."
Jeff Isaac, Pathway to Adventure Council CEO/Scout Executive, says earning the rank of Eagle Scout is a significant achievement that takes hard work and perseverance.
"Along the journey to Eagle Scout, young people gain new skills, learn to overcome obstacles, and demonstrate leadership among their peers and in their communities," Isaac said. "These benefits are invaluable for everyone, and we are thrilled that they are now available to even more youth."