By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Kevin Connolly didn’t seem to care that his pants, sneakers and gloves were caked with mud and black mulch.
As a soaking rain cloaked Sea Isle City in ominous gray skies Saturday, he was busy directing his fellow Boy Scouts from Troop 76 and a group of adults that included his parents, Jason and Tat Connolly, in a special project.
With the help of others, Kevin was recreating the garden at VFW Post 1963 with new shrubbery, plants, flowers, decorative brick work and other touches to beautify the front of the white building overlooking John F. Kennedy Boulevard.
The 17-year-old student at the Cape May County Technical School conceived, designed and coordinated the construction of the garden to achieve the prestigious honor as an Eagle Scout.
Eagle Scout is the highest rank a Boy Scout can achieve. Only 4 percent of the Scouts are granted the rank after a lengthy review process for their community-oriented projects.
The Eagle Scout projects reflect personal qualities associated with the Boy Scouts of America code, including “integrity, courage, perseverance, sacrifice and service to others.”
Kevin said his project symbolizes his commitment to the community and military veterans.
VFW Post 1963 lost its previous garden when a deck was added to the front of its headquarters last year. Kevin took the initiative to replace the garden at a place that has special meaning to him.
“I’ve always had a thing for veterans,” he said of his respect for members of the military. “When they said that they wanted the garden done, I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Kevin, whose family lives in Dennisville, said he is considering a military career, but has not yet made up his mind. He is planning to join the Army National Guard as a first step.
His Eagle Scout project was done in collaboration with Boy Scout Troop 76, Post 1963, local families and businesses and the community at large.
Post 1963 Commander Mark Lloyd noted that the Boy Scouts have used the VFW building for their meetings, so it was hardly surprising when Kevin proposed the idea of remaking the garden.
“I was absolutely elated. I immediately said that I’m 100 percent on board,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd pointed out that Kevin was able to raise $5,000 in donations for the project – double his original goal. The community helped out with donations, including Action Supply in Seaville donating the decorative brick work and other materials for the garden.
Kevin’s fellow Boy Scouts, Troop 76 Scout Master Robert Day and a group of adults that included the parents of Boy Scouts were among those who donated their labor on Saturday to help bring the new garden to life.
“I’m very proud,” Kevin’s father, Jason Connolly, said of his son while pausing for a moment as he became emotional. “There are a lot of great qualities about him.”
“He’s just so willing to give to other people,” Connolly continued about his son. “He’s a kid who’s willing to give you the shirt off his own back.”