This is Benjamin Brnic
By Jennifer Ersalesi
As a Scout member of Troop 166, Benjamin Brnic has been working toward becoming an Eagle Scout. Benjamin will be a junior at Bergen County Academies in the Academy for Engineering and Design Technology this fall. Benjamin’s Eagle Scout project was one that enabled him to pull from his academic experiences, his hobbies, and his goal to create a project that would be valuable to the community. This is Rutheford interviewed Benjamin to learn more about his Eagle Scout project and
TIR: You are currently working on earning the rank of an Eagle Scout. How would you describe that process so far?
Benjamin Brnic: Enriching, challenging and memorable. Earning the Eagle Scout Rank is a process and significant accomplishment; doesn’t happen overnight. The Boy Scouts call it a journey. It takes years of planning and hard work.
It’s been enriching due to all the requirements. The Chessboard is just one part of the process. Also, you need to earn 21 merit badges, with each badge having its own list of requirements in a particular study area. Additionally, you need to learn and demonstrate leadership and teamwork skills, as well as develop an attitude of philanthropy for others and the community as a whole. When most people think of Scouts, they think of camping, hiking, first aid, and helping the community. There is so much more to it than that, and it all needs to be done before your 18th birthday.
It’s been challenging because it’s a lot of work to stay on top of and you need to balance it with schoolwork and other activities. I learned you sometimes need to put a lot of work into things before you can get something out of them. Covid made it a little harder since it has changed things a lot.
I think I will remember building the chessboard, as well as all I have learned and experienced with Scouting for the rest of my life. Plus the friends I have made and the fun I have had. I want to continue learning and hope to earn additional merit badges before I age out.
TIR: As a Scout working toward becoming an Eagle Scout, you had to develop an idea for a project that would benefit a party outside the Scouts. Where did you come up with the idea for your project to create an outdoor Chess area?
BB: Early on, I decided I wanted to earn the Eagle Scout rank, so I had been looking for ideas for a while for something that I could do to improve the community. I had been bike riding with my friends around town and started thinking about fixing up the old Railroad behind Memorial Field into a bike path. When that didn’t pan out, I started looking for other ideas.
I remembered the space in Memorial Field that wasn’t being used for anything and thought about what I could put there. I thought about making it into a space where people could gather, relax and do something. I saw the chess tables at Lincoln Park but wanted to do something a little different. On vacation, I stayed at a hotel with a life-sized chessboard and I enjoyed playing chess there with my family. I thought it would be nice to have something like that for Rutherford.
TIR: In order to use a town space to create the Chess area, you had to go through a lot of steps including receiving Borough approval through the Recreation Department and the DPW. Can you explain more about those steps that you had to take?
BB: Since this is part of earning my Eagle Scout Rank, there were many steps to take and approvals to get before building the Chessboard. The first step is to develop a concept for the project and get approval from the project’s beneficiary, the Rutherford Recreation Department. Back in March 2021, I first approached the Director of the Recreation Department with my idea proposal, and to my delight, I got a positive response back. Luckily, I approached the Rec. Dept. when the Rec. Department was looking for more outdoor activities, along with non-contact sports. Furthermore, there was a renewed interest in chess due to the popularity of the Netflix Series, “The Queen’s Gambit.”
As soon as there was initial interest from the Recreation Department, I sent the Rec Dept. a formal proposal that was distributed to the Department of Public Works and the Mayor and Town Council for each of their approvals.
After receiving these Borough approvals, I needed approvals on the Scouting side of things. I prepared a proposal and presented it to the Rutherford Boy Scout Troop 166 Committee Members. My proposal had to include many items, including a description and the benefits of the project. It included sketches, timing, materials, budget, logistics, and safety issues. Additionally, my proposal had to outline how the project would further my leadership skills. It turned out to be quite a big proposal.
After I received local Troup 166 approval, a written summary of the project was sent to the Northern New Jersey Boy Scouts of America Council.
As soon as all these approvals were received, I was able to start getting to work and beginning to coordinate materials.
TIR: Can you describe the design of the Chess area?
BB: I wanted a place where people could gather, relax, and be entertained. I wanted it to be something that would be lasting and easy for the town to maintain.
I had to design every single aspect of the chessboard from scratch. I made a basic 2D overhead sketch for the general layout of the board, surround and bench, and box location. For my submitted proposals, I created a 3D model using Inventor and rendered the model in Fusion 360 to help aid my presentation with a better visual representation. Inventor and Fusion 360 are CAD programs that I learned to use in high school.
As the project progressed and became more set in stone, changes were made to the design to ensure that all the measurements would work out. The measurements were carefully planned out for each part and change of the project, the chessboard in conjunction with the outer tiles, the benches, and the box. All of these calculations were performed so that each aspect fit together and the design plan could be used as blueprints.
I never came up with a name for the Chess area, though through my time working on the project I usually referred to it as “The Chessboard.” The beneficiary, the Rutherford Recreation Department can decide what they would like to call the area.
TIR: What were some of the most challenging aspects of creating this space?
BB: Materials, scheduling, and leading became the biggest challenges. Originally I had planned to do the project in July and August of 2021. A lot of the planned materials were simply unavailable during that time, with some delivery estimates being as far as November 2022. That caused materials and design changes, which caused the need to raise additional private funding. Originally all materials were to come from town-approved suppliers, but we had to be very creative and had to look elsewhere, as far as Italy, due to supply issues.
The project’s start date was delayed into September 2021. So work had to be scheduled around other things not happening during the summer. Schedules like school, homework, sports, and extracurricular activities. And not just mine. Other scouts and town schedules had to be considered. Additionally, there was shorter daylight and cold weather; some days we could not work because the ground became frozen.
Any Eagle Project is not only an individual effort but also a Troop effort. I had to lead my fellow scouts in doing the construction. This was challenging since most of us had little construction experience, and I wanted to make sure we were doing things correctly. This was made harder since we could only work on weekends rather than building for several days in a row. In all, there are just over 1,000 hours into the project, much of which got spread over weekends instead of a couple of weeks in the summer.
I had thought the chessboard would have been done by September 2021, but as it turns out, the ribbon-cutting ceremony was a year to the day of my presentation to the Rutherford Boy Scout Troop 166 Committee.
TIR: Now that the project is complete, you must be very proud. Tell us more about how you are feeling about the completion of the project.
BB: I am very proud of the project. I feel a great sense of accomplishment. It involved many hours of planning and execution. I think I achieved my goal. From an idea in my head to a design on paper, to now a reality, it’s incredible to reflect on how far the project has come.
I am also relieved. When the project was a work in process, I was fearful of every rainstorm and snowstorm that the project would be damaged or washed away. However, I can relax now that the project is completed after one and a half years.
TIR: While working on this project, other Scouts assisted you to earn their own service hours. Having a team to help you execute your ideas must have been very helpful. What can you tell us about their assistance?
BB: Many scouts assisted in all the phases of the project, a total of 23 people help me to complete the project, 16 of those being youth scouts. All the volunteers combined put in just over 1000 hours on the project. It was helpful to have many scouts come down to the field to help kick off the project, digging the hole, prepping the ground, laying the tiles, and carrying materials. Additionally, for the more complicated aspects of the project, such as cutting and laying the tile and installing the benches with concrete, a smaller group of older scouts came to help. They helped with the heavy lifting of the chess piece storage box to its resting place on the site. Without their help, this project would have taken so much longer to complete. I am grateful for all the hard work and time everyone put in.
TIR: What are you hoping will happen now that you have added this Chess area to Memorial Field?
BB: I hope that the Rutherford community can use the space to relax outdoors over a chess game. Also, it would be great if locals who enjoy chess could get together to play.
TIR: What else do you still need to complete before becoming an Eagle Scout?
BB: As part of becoming an Eagle Scout, you need to earn 21 merit badges and complete an Eagle Scout Project by your 18th birthday. I still need to complete two more merit badges, receive letters of recommendation and go through a board of review to attain the rank of Eagle. However, I am only 16 ½, so I have some time.
TIR: When did you join Scouts?
BB: I joined Cub Scout Pack 168 in town when I was in first grade. I completed the Cub Scout Program and then moved on to Rutherford Boy Scout Troop 166.
TIR: Who are the Scout leaders for your particular troop?
BB: The scout leaders for the Troop are Eric Makar, as Scout Master, Walter Carroll, Charlie Binder, Fred Liller, and Tom O'Reilly. Also, the Patrol Leaders Council is made up of youth scouts who plan the troop's agenda and run the meetings. The current Youth Patrol Leaders are Freddie Liller, as Senior Patrol Leader who just transitioned to an Adult Leader, and Adian Allshouse, Nicholas Valente, and me as Assistant Senior Patrol Leaders.
Adian Allshouse told TIR, "Ben was working on blueprints late at night while hanging out with our friends. The challenges and supply issues he faced didn’t stop him. Ben’s focused and determined."
TIR: What have you enjoyed about being a Scout?
BB: What I’ve enjoyed the most is the many good friends I have made through the scouting program. I have enjoyed working on my merit badges, learning new things, mentoring, and leading younger scouts, attending summer camp, and having fun. My favorite scouting trips were to the Florida Seabase, a high adventure scout camp, visiting Gettysburg's historical sites, and canoeing on the Delaware River. And of course, annual summer camping at NoBeBoSco. Most people don’t know that the original movie Friday the 13th was filmed there.
Troop Leader Ginny Bowers Coleman explained, "Ben is a committed and creative young man. His interests in engineering could be seen from an early age, whether it was building a birdhouse in Cub Scouts, coding a robot for the Union School VEX team, or building, and racing, a winning Downhill Derby Car. He has a quiet, yet driven, leadership style and contributes much to our community. I’m excited to see him earn the rank of Eagle Scout!"
TIR: Who have been your Scout mentors?
BB: My scout mentors are the Troop Committee members. Eric Makar is our Scoutmaster. He and others have been my mentors along my journey to Eagle. To name a few, John Gossard, Hament Patel, and Ginny Bowers Coleman were my CubScout mentors. At Troop 166, in addition to Eric Makar, Nino Masullo, Walter Carroll, Charlie Binder, Jay Delgado, and Tom O'Reilly have mentored me along the way along with other parents and leaders. Also, my parents have been supportive by taking me to scouting events, participating in scouting as leaders, and assisting on the project.
"We at Troop 166 were not only proud of Ben's project but extremely impressed at the thoroughness of the planning, engineering, and as required by BSA, the leadership and organization shown during the project. Because of that, this project will be around for many, many years to come and we hope it shows all of Rutherford and especially the youth that Scouting not only benefits the individual scout, learning how to become a great citizen, but his community as well," Eric Makar, Scoutmaster, Troop 166 told TIR.
This is Rutherford also spoke with Evelyn Pellicone, Benjamin’s mother, about his Eagle Scout project.
TIR: Your son Benjamin worked very hard to design and complete this project. I am sure you are very proud. Can you describe how you are feeling about his accomplishments?
Evelyn Pellicone: From an early age, Benjamin was designing and building. In preschool, he built cities and bridges from cardboard boxes and extensive train track layouts. His interest in elementary school moved on to working with Lego, model railroading, and robotics. So it was a natural project for Benjamin to build something from an original idea.
I am very proud of Benjamin that he was able to take his vision of creating a useable outdoor space for the community and accomplish the project with the support of Troop 166's scouts and the town officials. It was an effort of many, and it was fun to watch the design come to life after many hours of hard work over the last year.
“In addition to the above, I am glad for the real-world experience the project has afforded Benjamin,” explained Benjamin’s father, Chris Brnic.
TIR: How do you think his project will benefit the community of Rutherford?
EP: The project will benefit the community of Rutherford by offering another outdoor space for families to enjoy and expanding the offering of the Rutherford Recreation Department to activities beyond traditional sports leagues. I hope that many chess fans will use the space to have fun and work on their games, and the users of the nearby picnic space can enjoy the area with their family and friends.