Woodworking. Plumber. Gardening. Journalism. Camping.
These are just some of the topics George and Andrew Atala have learned in recent years by doing a pretty rare feat: The two Livonia boys have or are on the cusp of earning every possible Boy Scouts of America merit badge.
“Scouts always give you a lot of things to learn, a lot of different skills,” Andrew said. “Ever since I earned my first merit badge, I’ve always wanted to learn more. And you think this one is cool and you do it. And there’s a cooler one and a cooler one until you do them all, like I did.”
The two, members of Troop 755 in Northville, wanted to earn each of the 137 merit badges offered by the organization. The badges have different requirements that Scouts must meet in order to earn the badges and cover a wide range of topics. The organization requires Scouts to earn 21 merit badges to earn the highest award in Scouting, the Eagle Scout award. Both boys have already earned their Eagle Award, the highest rank in Scouting, with Andrew doing his project at St. Edith Catholic Church in Livonia and George donating duffel bags to help foster children in Detroit.
George (16) earned his final badge earlier this year, while Andrew, 14, is meeting the final requirements of his latest badge, something he expects to do this month. Both guys will have completed the same badge for their last one: Bugling. Known as one of the less deserved badges in the program, it requires scouts to learn how to play the brass musical instrument.
“You have to learn 10 songs; you have to learn how to play it,” explained George. “Actually you learn to play an instrument. And of course people take lessons for that.
“I was on YouTube all day.”
When George Atala earned that last badge, he said he realized how valuable it is to earn more badges, especially to prepare him for adulthood.
“Once I got that amount, I learned so much from doing so little[of the]merit badges and it just felt so great,” said George Atala. “Like you literally scratch 137 different subjects on the surface and you can actually see what you like.”
Different system during the pandemic
The Boy Scouts of America said it doesn’t keep track of how many Scouts earn each merit badge it offers, but it does have a number stats on how many badges were earned in the past year.
Badges that could be earned at home performed particularly well over the past year — a period when many scouts used their badges at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic — with badges like Family Life and Personal Fitness topping the list with the most badges earned.
As face-to-face meetings were limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic, working with counselors became a new challenge to navigate. Instead of the brothers—both Detroit Catholic Central High School students—meeting in person with merit badge advisors, there were many Zoom meetings with others to discuss their progress.
The pandemic ended up having a bit of a silver lining when it came to earning merit badges, Andrew said; they were able to connect with people in places they wouldn’t normally go.
“It was more diverse because we could also talk to people in different states,” Andrew said. “So I thought that was pretty cool too.”
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Scouting has become a family affair for the Atalas. Their father, Bassel Atala, serves as an assistant Scoutmaster in their troop, and younger brother Matthew has started his journey with Scouts to earn his merit badge assignment as well.
So far he has earned 10 and he hopes to continue, especially after seeing the things his older brothers have done.
“I want to follow them because when I saw the pictures of white water rafting and crazy adventures and they were laughing all the time, I thought, ‘Wow, that’s so cool, I want to do that too’,” said Matthias. “They have taught me many lessons.”
Andrew said his first badge he earned, First Aid, is a demonstration of how important those learned skills can be. He used the skills he learned from that badge to save someone’s life when he attended St Edith Catholic Church in Livonia. By helping those fellow parishioners until the first responders could arrive, he was awarded a special award for saving a life.
Having those skills, he said, is crucial. And completing a merit badge to learn those skills helped save that person’s life.
“It’s not just a merit badge,” Andrew said. “It’s more of a life lesson than just a badge.”
Contact reporter David Veselenak at [email protected] or 734-678-6728. Follow him on Twitter @davidveselenak.
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