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Student Erin Donelan among first female Eagle Scouts in Massachusetts

mbruun | Wed Feb 3, 2021

Erin Donelan always liked hanging out with her brothers on their varied Boy Scout adventures.

“Growing up with two brothers, I found myself wanting to do what they were doing,” said Donelan, 18, a first-year student at Fitchburg State University, studying special education with a concentration in teaching students with severe disabilities. She has started her collegiate career strong, earning a spot on the dean’s list in her first semester.

While she gave Girl Scouts a try in her younger years, she pounced at the opportunity to join the Boy Scouts when the national organization opened its ranks to include all in 2019.

“We’re a very progressive troop,” said Donelan, noting the other members of Sturbridge-based Troop 163 do not all identify as female. “We’re accepting of everyone.”

Because she joined the Boy Scouts at age 17, the clock was ticking fast if Donelan was to follow in her older brother’s footsteps and achieve the exclusive rank of Eagle Scout. “You’re supposed to get it before your 18th birthday,” she explained, though the organization offered an extension. “It’s been a race and I’ve just been chipping away.”

For her Eagle Scout service project, Donelan wanted to do something to help children entering the foster care system. A 2020 graduate of Fitchburg High School, Donelan had seen the challenges some of her peers faced when engaged with the social service system.

So she decided to create comfort kits for teenagers making the transition into Department of Children and Families’ care. Seeking donations, she hoped she would collect enough funds and materials to create 20 comfort kits that include backpacks and personal care items. She ended up creating more than 100.

Donelan credits the outpouring of support to effective marketing, from local news write-ups to social media. “Moms on Facebook, they know everyone,” she said.

Donelan has already delivered 50 kits each to the Leominster and Sturbridge DCF offices for distribution to teens facing challenges. She said she is grateful that her project can provide some comfort to teens in tough situations, while also giving members of her community a COVID-safe opportunity to do something positive for others.

With her rank achieved, Donelan is looking forward to planning the Eagle Scout Court of Honor where her status will be formally bestowed, even if it has to wait until the pandemic is under control. “It’s like a wedding,” she said of the planned ceremony. “They’re pulling out all the stops.”