Holy Trinity’s Eagles Have Landed

New Eagle Scouts (l to r): Brad Fistonich, Matt Yracheta and Austin Leavitt (photo: Anita Yracheta & Julio Lemus)

Brad Fistonich, Austin Leavitt and Matt Yracheta aren’t your typical high school seniors. In addition to balancing varsity football, heavy class loads and choosing between college acceptance letters, the 18-year-olds have spent ten years going camping, earning merit badges and moving up in the ranks of the Boy Scouts of America. Three months ago, all three became Eagle Scouts, the highest rank in scouting, and an honor earned by only 5 percent of scouts annually.

On March 9, Fistonich, Leavitt and Yracheta had their Eagle Scout Court of Honor at Holy Trinity Parish, where they are members of Troop 234, and are the 24th, 25th and 26th scouts in the history of the troop to make Eagle. Congresswoman Janice Hahn was on hand to present them with certificates of honor from President Barack Obama.

“I’m extremely proud of what Matt, Austin and Brad have accomplished; they are great scouts and excellent role models for San Pedro’s youth both in and out of scouting,” says Troop 234 Scoutmaster Dwayne Cooper. “One of the aims of scouting is to develop well-rounded young men who are prepared to give back to their community. Through the service they provided in their scouting career and especially their Eagle projects, they have already begun to give back.”

Although the teens began their paths to Eagle Scout in different troops and went to different high schools – Yracheta attends the San Pedro High School Marine Science Magnet, and Fistonich and Leavitt go to Mary Star of the Sea High School – the three have developed and maintained a tight bond strengthened by their shared experience of making Eagle Scout.

“Boy Scouts isn’t all fun and games; it’s serious stuff and in the end, it’s very rewarding,” says Fistonich, who started out as a Cub Scout at Holy Trinity before bridging over to the Boy Scouts, eventually becoming a Senior Patrol Leader. Of the 21 merit badges needed to become an Eagle Scout, his favorite was the Shotgun Merit Badge.

In addition to the merit badges, Eagle Scouts must plan, lead and oversee a volunteer service project. Fistonich organized a 40-volunteer effort to renovate the gardening center at Silver Spur Elementary School in Rancho Palos Verdes.

“The whole process was two days, but there were dozens of prep days, which were probably even harder than the actual work days,” he says.

Leavitt spent months planning his project last summer to clean up his school’s deteriorating shipping container-turned weight room. The swimmer and honor roll student oversaw almost 50 volunteers. During his scouting career, he earned the 60 Nights of Camping Badge and reached the highest rank at Chawanakee Summer Camp.

“It’s been a long journey and it’s really nice to be able to finish after 10 years,” he says. “As you move up in the ranks, you figure out what you want to do and how you’re going to lead and be an example to others.”

For his service project, Yracheta led a two-weekend effort to replenish emergency kits in classrooms at Holy Trinity School. He’s also participated in food drives and camped in all types of weather conditions, earning him the 20 Nights Camping award. A member of San Pedro High School’s 2011 Marine League Title-winning varsity football team, he likens scouting to sports.

“When my team went 10-0, it was just like Boy Scouts in that when it was tiring and we wanted to stop and go home, we just had to keep pushing and pushing and go for gold.”

All three teens thank their parents, families, friends and scoutmaster for supporting them through their journeys to Eagle. They have all received multiple acceptance letters from universities. Yracheta plans on attending Marymount College and ultimately UCLA, Leavitt plans on attending California State University Long Beach, and Fistonich is still deciding.

“I think the Boy Scouts has given my son confidence, maturity, and the ability to speak in front of lots of people,” says Brad’s mother, Sharon Fistonich. “I think it’s a great growing experience and I’m very proud. I know all three boys will be friends for life.”

Yaracheta and Leavitt have been scouts together since they were Cub Scouts at Taper Elementary School, where Austin’s father Cary Leavitt was a Den Leader.

“I think the Boy Scout experience gives young men the skills and confidence to succeed at anything they do in the future,” Cary Leavitt says. “At Holy Trinity’s Troop 234, Dwayne Cooper is the most patient and understanding leader.”

Yracheta’s mother Anita says her son and Leavitt have developed a strong bond during the past 10 years that hasn’t changed despite going to different high schools.

“Matt and Austin have been friends since second or third grade, and even though they went to different high schools, it never changed their friendship. The scouts have kept them connected,” she says. “To see them grow and mature into such nice young men has been great. I’m proud of all three to be able to have accomplished what they have.” spt

Do Guns Give Us Liberty Or Death?

I think all sane people will agree that the Sandy Hook tragedy was one of the saddest days in the history of our country. The idea that 20 little children were all killed in cold blood mortified our nation. However, their bodies had not yet been removed from the school grounds when the fierce cries of 2nd Amendment advocates pierced the nation’s airways, as they all feared that their beloved guns would be taken away.

Anybody that dares argue a gun control position with gun advocates is often subjected to rabid condescending retorts. How many pro-gun posts have you seen on Facebook in the last month that deride people who choose not to own guns as morons that are just begging to get it from the bad guys? Here’s one I saw recently:

My next door neighbor wants to BAN ALL GUNS! Their house is NOT ARMED! Out of respect for their opinions, I promise NOT to use MY GUNS to protect THEM.

Well, it turns out the neighbor with no guns is much more likely to attend a gun-related funeral of the gun owner than the other way around. A 2004 national case study in the “Annals of Emergency Medicine” concluded that people who own guns in the home are almost twice as likely to be killed by a gun as those who do not own guns. This can primarily be explained by guns used in domestic violence crimes and, secondarily, by accidental deaths.

Even though you can go through reams of statistics, such as the fact that 31,672 people were killed in the U.S. by guns in 2011, gun ownership is such a staple of American life that a vast majority of citizens (myself included) are not in favor of outlawing handguns for home protection or rifles for hunting. However, this doesn’t stop the paranoia. For example, here’s an excerpt from an article written by country singer Charlie Daniels on CNSNews.com:

America, no matter what Obama, Biden, Pelosi, Reid and the rest of the far left in America say, they want your guns.

This is just one example of many shrill claims by the far right that President Obama is conspiring to take away their guns. However, here’s an excerpt from Obama’s position on guns:

Barack Obama respects the constitutional rights of Americans to bear arms. He will protect the rights of hunters and other law-abiding Americans to purchase, own, transport, and use guns. Obama and Biden also support making the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent, as such weapons belong on foreign battlefields and not on our streets.

President Obama is not alone among presidents when it comes to the issue of supporting a ban on assault weapons. When the law was first enacted in 1994, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton supported it.

I would challenge any pro-gun advocate to cite even one life saved by a private citizen using an assault weapon when a handgun would not have been sufficient. I don’t think it’s ever happened, but you can point to countless shootings in places like Newtown, Aurora, Columbine, and Virginia Tech where dozens of people were slaughtered because the gunmen had the capacity to rapidly empty bullets into scores of victims.

So what’s the rationale for allowing assault weapons? It’s our freedom! For example, here’s a beauty that radio host Alex Jones shouted/frothed during an interview with Piers Morgan on CNN:

We have all these foreigners including megabanks that control the planet. When they take our guns, they can have their world tyranny… The establishment knows that no matter how much propaganda, the Republic will rise again when you try to take our guns!

Can somebody please point out to these nut-jobs that we have a military to protect our nation from world tyranny and that the chubby middle-aged wannabe cowboy “patriots” can put down their guns? The lunatics are truly running the asylum in this debate.

These 2nd Amendment fanatics love to spout patriotic slogans such as, “Give me liberty or give me death!” But it must be asked, who will give us liberty from their sure path to more deaths? spt

Jack Baric can be reached at jackbaric@hotmail.com.

One Vote, Your Vote

In 2008, the nation came out in record numbers to vote during the presidential election. All across the country, voters lined up for hours to exercise their right to vote and the change that many hoped for happened.

Among the many questions that have been asked during this presidential campaign, one in particular is whether or not this is the change the nation expected. After all, unemployment is still hovering at 8%, gas is at $4.50 per gallon, food prices continue to rise, median incomes are lower, and in general our economic recovery continues at a snail’s pace. The government is more divided than ever and it seems as if the extreme sides of each political party are holding the rest of the country hostage. It is now in our hands to decide whom we send to Washington and Sacramento to change the gridlock that is so desperately needed.

Our decision is for us to determine which presidential candidate has the best policies, right approach and clearest vision to solve our nation’s problems. At the core of the debate is what the role of government should play in our daily lives. An example of this debate is that of trickle down economics vs. trickle down government.

One side argues that tax cuts provide businesses the opportunity to invest and create jobs, provides more money in our pockets that enables personal spending and in the end increases tax revenues. The other side believes in leveling the playing field, distribution of wealth and deficit spending to help stimulate the economy. What has transpired is that neither approach seems to be the sole answer to address our economic issues.

For example, although the Bush tax cuts provide a little more cash in our paychecks it did not appear to help grow the economy and the Obama stimulus package hasn’t created the millions of jobs that were promised. The answer resides somewhere in the middle of these two fundamental philosophies in order to turn our economy around. Our decision is to vote for the candidate that we believe can reach across the aisle to restore the belief in America and move our country forward.

Looking to California, propositions again make up the bulk of the November ballot. In many cases, it’s the propositions that we have approved over the years that have created new fees and increased our taxes. Many Californians question whether or not the state really needs more tax revenue or should focus on doing a better job managing the tax revenues it already receives along with working to bring new businesses back to our state.

Case in point, with the state’s parks department operating in the red, Governor Brown had planned to close a quarter of California’s natural attractions over this past summer. Generous donations from businesses, private citizens and cities allowed the parks to remain open only to find out later that $54 million in park revenues had been hidden in separate trust funds over the past ten years. This was not only embarrassing but also created a breach of trust with the taxpayers. Such a lack of trust with our state government’s ability to make sound financial decisions, balance the state budget and allocate proposition monies as promised may be a key factor on whether or not this year’s propositions get passed.

In the end, it is our duty to elect those who we believe represent our core values and will make decisions with the best interest of the nation and/or state in mind. We must do our homework when it comes to voting on the propositions so that we make an informed decision. Together we can put the country on the right track. After all, “we the people” determine the direction of the United States of America and one vote – your vote – can and will make a difference. So make sure to vote on November 6. spt