JACKSON – Surrounded by his family, volunteers and fellow scouts, Matt McCall worked to complete his Eagle Scout project that will benefit a popular community recreation spot. He and his helpers installed signs and benches at the Jackson Children’s Trail adjacent to the Jackson Jungle playground.
“This all started out when my father and I were volunteering for the Jackson Pathfinders the day they were creating this trail,” Matt said. Members of the Jackson Pathfinders and volunteers initially cleared the trail last year of various debris and overgrowth.
“As I was walking around the trail, I was getting pretty close to start to think about my Eagle Scout project. I realized what better place to do one and to do this,” Matt added. “I grew up playing at the playground right across the street and I thought it would be an amazing opportunity for kids to walk across. It is a beautiful trail.
“Today we are putting up four educational animal signs, two benches, five birdhouses, a three-panel entrance sign and we are ending with a little landscaping of Mount Laurel bushes,” Matt said. His sisters and his parents, Matthew Sr. and Mindy, were there to support him. “Our Scout Master’s son is here as well and our Scout Master will be here shortly making it about 25-30 people.” He is a member of Boy Scout Troop 152.
His father was grateful for the wonderful weather that they experienced that day. “No one wants to do this in the rain. We share a birthday; he turns 16 a week from tomorrow. It all started January of last year when he and I and our youngest, Emily, volunteered with the Pathfinders to create this trail.”
“When he left that day and we came home he told my wife and I that this is what he wanted to do for his Eagle project. With the help of his Scout Master and Assistant Scout Master they guided him and helped him work on the proposal. Matt then coordinated a meeting with Karen Walzer.”
Walzer, the chairperson of the Jackson Pathfinders said, “we are always looking to improve the trails and this is our newest one. It is very close to the Jackson Jungle (playground) and it is a children’s trail and it needs a little more visibility. Matt came up with the idea for this which starts with the entrance sign that people can see when they come in.”
“I think as a mom to see the beginning Matthew and the end Matthew, that is where these projects are so important for young kids to do. He learned independence he brought his own voice. This is what he wanted to do,” Mindy McCall said.
She added that her son took charge and said, “this where I want things put” and that is not something he started with but it is something that he has grown. Leadership, growth as a person, standing up for yourself and saying, ‘this is what I want.’ As a mom, that is amazing to see.”
“He met with the head of Jackson’s Department of Public Works here and they walked the trail. He met with Karen and Dan Green (the Pathfinder’s Corresponding Secretary) probably three or four times to get ideas. He wanted to do engraved signs and sourced a sign company. Initially, he wanted to do signs like the opening of the park when you come in but those were over $500,” his father said.
Mindy McCall interjected with a laugh, “that was over budget.”
“What I was most proud of is that when he did a fundraiser, he did a clothing drive and at the time of his clothing drive we noticed that a couple of sports groups within the high schools were having clothing drives at the same time. What he picked up on his own that those clothing drives had people drop off clothes between 7 and 9 at the high school but it wasn’t factoring those who were sick or scared of the pandemic or those who work at home and didn’t want to go out,” Matt’s father added.
Matthew thought he could be successful with the fundraiser if it was contactless. He set it up and made a flier telling people to leave it on their front step and he’d come to them.
“We had four or five families donate five or six times,” the elder McCall said. “They would clean out a closet and said come back.”
Matt’s fundraiser involved picking up items over the course of several weekends resulting in the collection of around 7,000 pounds of clothes.
His mother, who is a vice principal at the Woodrow Wilson School in New Brunswick noted that the project called for him to problem solve. The scout is also a member of the cross-country team which calls for him and team members to run around this trail for practice.
“We’re really proud of him,” his sisters Emily and Alexa said.
“He has been dedicating so much time to this. It is incredible,” Alexa said. The 20-year-old came from college for the weekend to join the effort. “He calls me up excited and tells me I’ve just made another milestone in my project.”
His 14-year-old sister Emily said, “he is really proud of it. It has been nonstop since he started.”