Bitterroot Star Masthead
The Bitterroot Valley's only locally owned newspaper



Volume XIX, Number 26

Features

Wednesday, January 21, 2004


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Spencer Erickson earns Eagle Scout Award

By Char Pulliam

Spencer Erickson, a member of Boy Scout Venture Crew 2916 in Stevensville, received the Eagle Scout Award on December 27, 2003. The Eagle Award is the most difficult and highest award offered by the Boy Scouts.

Eagle status, achieved by fewer than 4 percent of Boy Scouts, requires the planning, direction, and completion of a worthy service project. For his project, Spencer offered patriotic 11 by 14-inch posters to Stevensville school administrators and teachers, 63 of which were accepted.

The attractively framed montages display a flowing American flag super-inscribed with the official motto of the United States, "In God We Trust." About 300 hours of work went into framing, distribution, and hanging the colorful prints purchased from the American Family Association.

Spencer chose his project in remembrance of those who died in the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center twin towers in 2001. He hopes display of the motto will help school children capture an element of American history that he says has brought freedom to America and made it flourish.

"I wanted to do something that would influence many people over many years," said Spencer. "I think the poster really shows the heritage of our country and the history and also the principles that our nation was founded on."

Before proposing the project to the Boy Scout committees, Spencer researched the history of the motto and related court cases. "I wanted to make sure it would hold up in court so I could get approval," he says. Eagle projects must be approved at three committee levels before they are accepted.

Upon acceptance of his proposal in May of 2002, Spencer ordered posters and framing materials at a cost of nearly $1,000. Volunteers assisted with fund raising and framing of the prints, and distribution began that fall.

In spite of court decisions upholding the legality of the motto in public buildings, the school received a complaint about the posters in September of 2003. In response, Debra Silk, Attorney for the Montana School Board Association, advised that the posters be taken down.

"I was flabbergasted," Spencer says. "I didn't believe she had researched it."

Spencer admits that he worried when the controversy began. But two weeks later, when thoroughly researched information came in from the Gibbs Law Firm of Seminole, Florida and from the Center for Law and Policy of Tupelo, Mississippi, he became confident that the mottoes could remain in classrooms if teachers chose to display them.

The "In God We Trust" project drew considerable discussion in the Stevensville community. Many people attended school board meetings to voice support of the posters, with only a handful of objectors. School board members allowed the motto to stay in classrooms and offices by refusing to act on a request that the posters be removed.

Spencer says the Eagle Award project and the ensuing discussions were a huge growing experience for him. "I learned you need to stand up for what you believe in, even in opposition," he says. "It helped me see the real world and how people are, and I learned to stay with it and not give in. My whole Boy Scout experience, but especially this project, helped me mature as an adult, to be able to handle conflicts and hold a job."

Spencer attributes much of his success to the heartfelt support he received from his parents, friends, teachers, church members, and scout leaders, many of whom contributed both time and funds to the effort.

The motto project drew the attention of members of the American Legion. As a result, Spencer has been invited to be a spokesman in the American Legion campaign to place "In God We Trust" montages in all government buildings in Montana.

Spencer graduated from Stevensville High School last year. He currently works full-time at Super 1 Foods to save for college. "I'm not certain about my major field, but I've always liked history, especially American History, and now I'm thinking about political science," he says.



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New therapy practice open in Stevensville

You may be feeling depressed, stressed out, disorganized, without purpose, or haunted by memories from your past. If you can relate to any of these issues and want help, there's a new therapist in Stevensville who's ready, willing, and able to work with you.

Connie Wax, MSW, has opened an office at 105 Ravalli Street, Suite D in Stevensville, and can be reached at 546-5452. She likes to call her office "Your Safe Place," because, she says, "My office is a place where you can come to release stress and be honest in a supportive and confidential environment."

Connie received her Masters in Social Work in 2000, after which she became the therapist for Project Recovery, a program that worked with the victims of the 2000 fire season. Connie worked as a home-based therapist for an agency in Missoula for eight months before starting her own therapy practice in Stevensville. Connie has also taught parenting classes, and this year she facilitated a SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) support group for parents in the valley.

"This upcoming year I will be offering the SENG group again," says Wax. "It was rewarding to work with parents on issues that their children frequently contend with such as perfectionism, stress management, motivation, discipline, peer and sibling relationships, and depression.

"What I care about is helping parents create strong relationships and safe environments for their children. I love children, and I appreciate the struggles that parents are unprepared for. I am capable of doing brief solution-focused therapy (which usually requires only a few visits) as well as therapy that goes deeper into older traumas. Many times therapy is simply an educational event, not necessarily 'therapy' in the traditional sense. Many people believe they must have severe emotional problems before they can benefit from therapy, but this is not true. If you are feeling uncomfortable about some aspect of your life, and are willing to take a look at it in order to make the changes necessary to improve the quality of your life, give me a call!"

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