Thomas Jefferson

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Scouting Out The Wings

Posted 12/08/2023 by Mattie Brightwell

Vince Mattei at his Eagle Scout ceremony, standing with his scout masters and parents, after being awarded his badge. photo by Natalia Belcher

Vince Mattei worked hard for months to earn his Eagle Scout badge, in turn helping out the TJ Theatre department.

While it often goes unnoticed by many, community service projects provide huge support for Thomas Jefferson High School programs, one of which being the theater department. In the spring semester of last year, one student set out to improve the school’s theater in order to fulfill one of his biggest accomplishments yet: earning the rank of Eagle Scout in his scout troop. 

Senior Vince Mattei has been scouting for several years of his life. Ever since he joined his troop, he dreamt of becoming an Eagle Scout, a very difficult rank to achieve that encompasses leadership skills, community service, and an upstanding moral code. Not only is it a great honor to earn the Eagle Scout rank, but it also looks extremely good on college and career applications. 

Becoming an Eagle Scout is no easy task. Most scouts take around four to six years to become an Eagle Scout; however, one could feasibly do it in around two years if they are proactive enough. There are more than a few requirements to begin the process, the first being that a scout must be a part of their troop for at least six months before even beginning. They must demonstrate scout spirit by living the Scout Oath and Law: “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” On top of that, the scout must have at least three reference letters from their guardian, an employer, and one other person/organization, have a leadership position as a Life Scout in their troop, and lastly, they need to design and complete a service project to any institution or organization in their community. 

When searching for a project to fulfill the final requirements, it took some effort. Mattei thought long and hard about what the best project he could do would be. At first, he had the idea to work on restoring an old room in his church, as it was old and could have gotten a lot of use out of it had it been in working condition. However, Mattei soon discovered that the problems with the room would prove to be bigger than his project could fix. A lack of any insulation and troubles with the integrity of it would not have been fixable without the work of a professional, so the idea was left in favor of another project. This is when Mattei stumbled across the winning ticket: the TJ theater department. 

The theater department hasn’t been perfect in recent years, due to covid and an accident with the Vortek system. It was clear that it needed some love. It was nearly impossible to navigate the prop room, a tiny little closet on the left side of the stage due to old props scattered around and tossed haphazardly onto old shelves that were on their last leg. On top of that, the shop, the room that tech and crew use to build their sets, was unorganized and messy. Mattei thought back to his days working as a lighting technician during his sophomore year, and realized that he could use his scout project to help improve the theater. 

Before even setting foot into the auditorium to begin work, Mattei went through rigorous tasks to even begin. Getting the project approved was the first step. “The entire purpose of a scout project is to create something that lasts,” Mattei stated, “We were worried that it was just cleaning, that it wouldn’t last, so we had to come up with a way to make sure that all our work wouldn’t just be forgotten.”

Mattei thought of things he could include in his project to create a lasting impact on the theater. He quickly stumbled across the idea to build a peg-board to hang in the shop, which is a tool-organization site. It would serve to take the stress off of the single cabinet that held all of the tools, which include but are not limited to drills, circular saws, a DeWalt sawzall, several clamps of various types and sizes, jigsaws, and more. Having a peg-board would offer another place to organize all of the tools, plus it would help tech and crew access them easier. 

Mattei also had to get the project funded. For weeks, he had to email back and forth to a lot of different places and people to work out deals that would last for months, and he had to make sure that the project stayed within a very strict budget. It was all worth it in the end though. With the help of many volunteers, Mattei successfully led a group through a long day of work, completely gutting the prop room and organizing it, cleaning up the shop and hanging the peg board, and also cleaning out the costume room. Mattei also donated several materials other than the peg board to help the theater department remain organized. These materials included rosters of all the supplies, props, and costumes owned by the department, storage buckets, and masks and gloves. 

“My favorite part was the end of the project,” Mattei reflected, “I liked walking through the prop room and being able to see the floor. When Mr. Moss came up to me the next day and said ‘Vince, that was beautiful. I almost cried,’ it felt pretty good.”

Mattei also recalled while laughing that he remembered when the fire department had to show up during the deep-clean and repair. “We set off the alarm with all the dust. I think we’re one of the first scout groups to have the fire department show up during their project.” 

He couldn’t have done it alone. Mattei extended plenty of thanks to many friends and mentors who were there for him along the way. His scout masters, Mark Adams and Pete Castillo, were two of his biggest influences, offering a lot of help and insight into his project. “They were always there for me, saying ‘you got this!’ while I worked.” Mattei stated. 

This project won’t be the last time Mattei helps out his community either. He fully intends to continue living by scout oath in the future, and he hopes to continue on to Northeastern University after high school to pursue his bachelor’s in Pharmaceutical Sciences so he can go into drug development and research. He hopes to continue helping people with everything that he has learned from scouting over the years, and it’s certain that the help his project lent the TJ theater will not be forgotten any time soon.