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Fledgling Eagle

James Madison junior attains Eagle status for extensive church repairs.

Chris Weschler gets a kick out of volunteering. "It just makes me feel proud," he said. Perhaps this is why the Vienna resident, a junior at James Madison High School, has already attained Eagle Scout status at the age of 16.

Weschler was made an Eagle Scout on Thanksgiving weekend, following repairs he led at the Church of the Holy Cross in Dunn Loring last May.

He had begun the day on Saturday, May 6 with intentions of putting two or three coats of paint on one room and replacing the mailbox that was leaning over in front of the church. He said he had been told to plan on a crew of about 10 or 12, but a total of 28 people showed up, including fellow Boy Scouts, their parents, Girl Scouts and friends. "I saw that I would be capable of doing more, so I ended up doing more," he said.

The team painted three coats on a hallway and entrance room, in addition to the music director's office they had planned to paint. They also replaced the mailbox, cut down two trees that were blocking a path, replaced a concrete parking stanchion, cleaned out and straightened a storage room, and cleared and weeded three gardens, including a memorial garden and the plantings around the church's sign.

"I was really lucky that I had a clear day," said Weschler. While his team waited for each coat of paint to dry, church members had found other tasks to be done. A total of 148 man hours were put into the project.

"My church has done a lot for me," he said, noting that he had enjoyed being able to give something in return. "The next day, people were telling me, 'Good job on the walls,'" he said. He added that he was still proud to see his own work each week.

"I WALKED into my office, and I knew it had been painted, and it had been painted well," said David Snyder, the church's minister of music. "Everybody was very pleased with the scope and the work he put in, and he's a very nice young man."

The church had been in "severe need of painting," said church member Tom Lenertz, who helped with the project. Some of what Weschler's team painted was over 10 years old, and some over 20 years old, he said, noting that none of it had been repainted before. "It came out great," said Lenertz. "It came out really good."

Attaining Eagle Scout status "shows that the boy had perseverance and that he's shown leadership, and that's what we want our scouts to do," said Bob Dice, one of the members of the District Eagle Board who signed off on Weschler's paperwork. "A lot of boys drop out before they reach that point," he said. In the George Mason District, which includes 15 troops in Fairfax, Vienna and Falls Church, only about 25 scouts per year become Eagle Scouts, said Dice.

He noted that, in order to be eligible, a scout must complete the requirements before his 18th birthday, have 21 merit badges and have held a position of leadership in his unit for at least six months. "It's the final and highest rank a boy can reach in scouting," he said.

Weschler has 30 merit badges and said he has, at different times, been his troop's bugler, historian, patrol leader and Order of the Arrow representative. With more than a year left before he turns 18, he said he plans to work toward earning "palms," which signify an Eagle Scout's continued scouting leadership.

He said he takes pride in having achieved Eagle status. "When I tell people I'm an Eagle Scout, it shows more of who I am," he said.

THIS IS NOT the first time he has been honored for service. When he was in eighth grade, Weschler received the Navy Federal Credit Union's award volunteerism for work that he did on his own, and he also was honored by the Kohl's Kids Who Care program.

When he was 8, he was recognized by Fairfax County for his assistance in saving the lives of a mother and daughter. He had been watching his older brother, Leonard, surfing at a beach in Hawaii when a catamaran capsized nearby, said Weschler's mother, Maureen McDonnell-Weschler. While Leonard Weschler swam to the aid of the mother and daughter, who neither were wearing life jackets nor knew how to swim, Chris Weschler ran for help and assisted in launching a boat to retrieve the two.

The woman contacted area Boy Scout officials to let them know of the rescue.

In addition to scouting, Weschler is involved in James Madison drama and marching band and serves on the altar at the Church of the Holy Cross.