YORKTOWN, N.Y. – Only about five percent of Boy Scouts go on to achieve the organization’s highest honor: the rank of Eagle Scout. Though all recipients must take many oaths, earn many merit badges, and complete a community service project while demonstrating a positive “Scout Spirit,” not many completed these requirements while confined to a wheelchair.
The accomplishments of Nicholas Bellomo, a 21-year-old member of Boy Scouts of America Troop 165, were celebrated Saturday at the First Presbyterian Church of Yorktown. A 2014 graduate of Lakeland High School and soon-to-be senior at Pace University, Bellomo was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy when he was 3 years old. Now, he has joined the ranks of President Gerald Ford, film director Steven Spielberg, astronaut Neil Armstrong and other accomplished Americans who have earned the rank of Eagle Scout.
“As the psalm says, I can now fly like an eagle,” Bellomo said. “Of course, I can’t really fly, but if Neil Armstrong can walk on the moon, I’m saying there’s a chance.”
Christine Fredericks, who presented Bellomo with his Eagle Scout badge and kerchief, said there were never any obstacles with Bellomo, only solutions. She said his Eagle Scout Service Project was as labor-intensive and as time-consuming as any other project.
“I find it amazing that in our time of working with Nick, the word ‘disability’ never entered the equation,” Fredericks said. “I think we learned very quickly that Nick was not a disabled person, but a person with a disability.”
Knowing he wanted a project that would reflect his love for animals, Bellomo approached the SPCA of Westchester and asked what he could do. Alice Shanahan, volunteer coordinator for the SPCA, said she presented three possible things Bellomo could do for the organization: refurbish and fresh up the SPCA buildings, hold fundraisers for the organization, or organize an adoption-awareness event.
“We didn’t expect him to take on everything, but he did,” Shanahan said.
Indeed, using his leadership and organizational skills, Bellomo set out to complete all three tasks for his community service project. He spent much of his speech on Saturday thanking all friends, family members and fellow Scouts who helped him. He also revealed the key to getting Scouts to volunteer their time: free pizza.
“That will always get a Scout’s attention,” Bellomo said.
During his project, Bellomo detailed instances of adversity. During one of his three fundraising drives for the SPCA, Bellomo and company set up a donation table outside of Petsmart in the Cortlandt Town Center after receiving the company’s approval. The only problem: the approval wasn’t Petsmart’s to give, as the sidewalk outside the store belonged to the town center’s management company.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t find that out until the security officer approached me that Saturday during the collection drive,” Bellomo said.
After explaining his situation to the security officer, Bellomo said, he was allowed to stay.
Another obstacle Bellomo faced during his project was something he couldn’t control. He had planned his adoption awareness event for Saturday, Oct. 3, and the weather didn’t cooperate. Despite radio advertisements and flyers posted around town, low temperatures and rain forced a low turnout for his. Ultimately, one cat was adopted and the SPCA volunteers were fed, resulting in what Bellomo called a successful day.
The following day, however, the SPCA reported to Bellomo that it was very busy. He said he likes to think that his advertisement of the event resulted in the surge, as people thought his event was postponed.
Maryrose Gummerson, committee chair for Troop 165, said the rank of Eagle Scout is about much more than completing a project.
“It’s a journey about becoming a young man and becoming a leader,” Gummerson said. She described Bellomo as some who has “given back so much he can’t remember the good deeds he’s done.”
Saturday’s ceremony featured many similar testimonials about Bellomo’s character. Scout parent Audrey Lewin said he knew Bellomo to be an intelligent and humble person from the day she met him more than a decade ago.
“It was a long journey to get here; obstacles have been thrown your way,” Lewin said. “Since the day I’ve met you, though, I’ve never, ever seen anything or anyone stop you.”
Town Justice Sal Lagonia, Town Councilman Vishnu Patel and Town Councilman Tom Diana were on hand to present Bellomo with proclamations and a “Key to Yorktown.” Proclamations were also presented on behalf of Michael Kaplowitz, chairman of the Westchester County Board of Legislators, and state Sen. Terrence Murphy.