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There's no Eagle Scout like her in six counties. This York County girl won't be the last.

The Herald (Rock Hill, SC) logo The Herald (Rock Hill, SC) 1/20/2021 John Marks, The Herald (Rock Hill, S.C.)

Jan. 20—TEGA CAY — Tega Cay

Eagles fly in rarefied air anyway, yet the newest one in Tega Cay just reached a height unmatched by anyone before her.

Emily Pilarczyk, 16, is the first female Eagle Scout in York County.

She's the first in the Palmetto Council, a six-county scouting area that also includes Lancaster, Chester, Spartanburg, Union and Cherokee counties. There are more than 100 charter organizations with 3,500 youth members and 1,000 adult volunteers in the council.

On Tuesday night Tega Cay City Council honored Pilarczyk with a proclamation for her accomplishment. Earlier Tuesday the Fort Mill High School sophomore said she set the goal of earning Eagle status from the start. Becoming the first of her kind wasn't the focus.

"Now that I've achieved it, I'm speechless," Pilarczyk said. "I'm very honored because it's something I've always looked up to."

Now others can look up to her.

Boy Scouts of America in early 2019 began to let girls participate alongside boys in both Cub Scout and Scout programs. The highest rank is Eagle, which requires years of public service and education along with a major civic service project. As girls started to advance through the ranks, the organization set Feb. 8, 2021 as the date to recognize the inaugural class of female Eagle Scouts.

Palmetto Council scout executive Justin Williams said there likely will be hundreds of Eagles nationwide in the first class. He and Pilarczyk expect there likely will be another from her Troop 250 G. Williams said anyone who earns the Eagle rank does it through hard work and perseverance.

"Along the journey to Eagle Scout, young people gain new skills, learn to overcome obstacles and demonstrate leadership among their peers and in their communities," Williams said. "These benefits are invaluable for everyone, and we are thrilled that they are now available to even more youth."

She started young

Pilarczyk has generations of family members who were Boy Scout or Girl Scout leaders. Her dad Jason was an Eagle Scout. Younger brother JD, 11, is involved with the Scout program which appealed to Pilarczyck long before she could officially join. Cub Scout programs often involve family camping, so young girls often attended even if they weren't members.

"I've always had a passion for the outdoors," Pilarczyk said.

Mom, Carol, said Emily started young enough to matriculate through the Scout ranks. Emily read through her Scout book at baseball games. She went to summer and winter camps. She set and stuck to goals.

"She has just been all in," Carol said. "She has done everything. She wanted to do it the way it was meant to be done."

A competitive swimmer in her younger years, Emily made fairly quick work of swimming, life-saving and related merit badge requirements. A history of family hiking and outdoor activity helped. Knot-tying took a little more learning. Then there was the big challenge that faced Scouts nationwide — boys and girls — in their progress.

"The COVID time away from the traditional schedule, has helped in the sense that she's had the time to work on stuff," Carol said. "But at the same time you have to be self-motivated."

COVID canceled campouts for a time. It halted in-person meetings. Scouts were given the new option of online merit badge training. Emily completed art and music that way. The pandemic brought challenges and opportunities.

"We definitely went on a whole lot less campouts," Emily said. "It definitely gave me a lot more time to focus on my Eagle project."

The service project

Emily created a diversity and inclusion garden at Winthrop University.

It took 130 service hours from Emily and about 550 combined hours from fellow volunteers. Emily polled people connected to the university on what diversity and inclusion meant to them, and incorporated responses into concrete stools in the garden.

She started last July and finished late last year, in time to reach the Eagle rank in December. Only about 6% of Scouts nationwide earn the Eagle rank. It takes 21 merit badges on a variety of topics. Then there's the service project.

Emily said by starting at age 14 she had time to earn the rank, and the community of Scouts was accepting to her and her Troop. The biggest adjustment (she'd been a Girl Scout prior) was to the Scout organization, not to being a girl in a boy group. Male Scouts were some of her biggest helpers, Emily said.

"I had to catch up in terms of meeting a lot of new people," she said. "I didn't know who was in charge of what."

Carol credits her daughter's love of the outdoors, drive and commitment to becoming an Eagle. Carol said the family enjoyed prior programs but found a home with Scouts. Carol is proud to have the first girl Eagle in the area, but knows her family won't have the last.

"There's more girls than just her," Carol said of the Scout appeal. "There's a group of people that just like the adventure."

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