Boy Scout Troop 186 of Wantagh made history this week, as three of its scouts were among the first girls in the nation to achieve the rank of Eagle.
Amritha Jacob, of Bellmore, Julia Kirpalani, of Merrick, and Lea Feiner, of Levittown — who worked at the Town of Hempstead Animal Shelter in Wantagh for her Eagle project — officially became Eagle Scouts at a special ceremony on Monday. The trio, along with Scoutmaster Mike Sarlo, had received congratulatory certificates from County Executive Laura Curran at the Nassau County Legislature on Feb. 11.
They are among hundreds of young women across the country who comprise the inaugural class of female Eagle Scouts.
“It’s such a great honor,” Kirpalani said. “I never expected that in my youth I’d have the opportunity to do this — I thought maybe my daughters might be able to do this. To be part of that change was unexpected, but it’s been an amazing opportunity and an amazing leap of faith.”
“Getting to Eagle is rooted in service — that’s the whole point: to learn leadership and dedication to your community,” Jacob said. “Being able to say that we have achieved that highest level of service in scouting is a huge honor, and it means so much to me that we get to be an example for the next generation of scouts, both boys and girls.”
“They’re pioneers,” said Sarlo, who leads a troop that includes 25 other girls. “They’re encouraging those girls to put themselves on the right path.”
Jacob, Kirpalani and Feiner were members of Troop 186’s Venturing unit before the Boy Scouts of America welcomed girls into the Cub Scouts and Scouts BSA. BSA’s co-ed programs, such as Sea, Venturing, Exploring and STEM Scouts, have been offered to girls for decades.
Before joining the Scouts BSA program — previously known as the Boy Scouts, serving youth ages 11 to 17 — the girls were “teased,” Sarlo said. Each had to watch their brothers, who are also scouts, participate in fun programs for years.
Girls began joining Scouts BSA in February 2019. Since then, tens of thousands of them have joined.
Only about 6 percent of scouts achieve the Eagle rank. They must take on leadership roles in their troop and community; earn a minimum of 21 merit badges in everything from first aid and safety to civics, business and the environment; and complete a large service project.
“We know that we are part of history being made in this country, and for the Boy Scouts of America organization,” Jacob said. “To know that we get to have our names . . . on this little piece of history is indescribable.”
“It’s so much more than just yourself,” Feiner added. “To get to each level and earn each merit badge, you have to be a part of a community. To do that, and set an example for the younger kids, was a big thing for me.”
For her project, Jacob beautified Bellmore Presbyterian Church, her childhood church, by constructing a quiet place for reflection alongside the building. She also landscaped the area in front of the event hall and built planter boxes.
Next year, Jacob plans to study law and public policy in college, so she can eventually benefit her community on a local and global level. “The journey to Eagle is no one person’s — it’s an amalgamation of so many people; a community of effort,” she said. “When you look back through that journey of scouting, you see all of those people that pushed you forward.”
Kirpalani supported veterans at the Northport VA Hospital for her Eagle project. She collected toiletry care packages and clothing alongside other volunteers, and raised money to purchase Uber gift cards to help transport veterans to their doctors’ visits. She also organized a garden cleanup and planted new shrubs and flowers along the Vietnam War and Wall of Wars memorials on the hospital’s grounds.
Kirpalani will attend Washington University in St. Louis in the fall. She plans to serve as an officer in U.S. Army. “My dream was never to be an Eagle Scout, believe it or not — I just wanted to be a scout,” she said. “Even that opportunity was more than I could ever ask for. Titles and ranks are just the cherries on top. A title doesn’t mean anything if there’s no one else around you.”
At the Wantagh animal shelter, Feiner constructed perches for cats, using shelving and tires to create a dynamic environment for the animals. Feiner is currently attending Nassau Community College, where she is working toward an associate degree in education. She plans to continue her studies at Queens College.
“While it was for the cats, I think it was one of the first activities [in which] we got together since Covid hit,” Feiner said. “You could see it on everyone’s clothes and faces that they had so much fun. That’s really what it meant to me at the end of the day.”
Jacob, Kirpalani and Feiner will remain active in Troop 186, where they’ve become close friends. They reminisced about their years in scouting, including a tradition of singing “Hakuna Matata” from “The Lion King.” Kirpalani’s ukulele accompaniment has already been passed down to a younger scout.
“Having grown up indirectly in scouting because of my younger brother, I saw how many girls tried to participate — and I was one of them,” Jacob said. “I acknowledge my being here at all as a huge privilege that so many girls missed out on. If I get to be an example, I want to be a great one.”