Matthew Acosta

Only 4 to 6 percent of Boy Scouts of America reach the rank of Eagle Scout, the organization’s most difficult award to receive.  Matthew Acosta, a San Fernando resident is one of them. 

What makes this especially impressive is that Acosta, 18, is autistic. He was presented the highest honor during a special ceremony on Sunday Jan. 10. Those in attendance included San Fernando Mayor Pro Tem Sylvia Ballin, and Congressman Tony Cardenas.

Neither Cesar nor his wife Emilia could hold back the tears as their son received the award.  “We’re really proud,” said  Cesar Acosta, his father.

Acosta felt just as proud. “I feel very amazing, like I’m not so lonely anymore,” he said. “I feel very proud of myself.”

Acosta joined the Boy Scouts in 2008 when he just was eight years old. He had been a Cub Scout since 2005, and is currently a member of Troop 94, sponsored by the Sylmar Civic Association. The troop meets at First United Methodist Church, in San Fernando.

In order to be become an Eagle Scout, candidates must progress through the ranks and earn 21 merit badges, including first aid, personal fitness, camping, family life, emergency preparedness and lifesaving. They also must develop, plan and give leadership to a service project.

It’s not an easy level for any Scout to achieve. For someone like Acosta with autism — a disorder that can have daunting challenges, including limitations that include the inability to read social cues, sensory issues and difficulty with fine motor skills — earning the rank of Eagle Scout is even more wondrous.

Being part of the Boy Scouts has helped Acosta socially, Cesar said, describing his son as shy and quiet. “Scouting builds on kindness and community work,” his father said. “[The Troop] has always had a lot of patience and understanding with him, and some of the boys have coaxed him to participate in activities. They get him out of his shell. But, even though he’s autistic, at campouts he still has to pull his weight.”

Acosta said he loves everything about the Boy Scouts — “the camping, the places I’ve been to — learning, everything.”

He’s participated in  camping outings in Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah, and visited Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon, among others.

There were challenges for Acosta the Troop had to consider  — “He had problems with certain knots he couldn’t do because of his fine motor skills,” Cesar explained — but they’ve been very supportive, his father said.

But it seemed that whatever challenge he faced, it wasn’t a deterrent for Acosta, who was willing to help and lend a hand and his fellow scouts in turn helped to make accommodations.

“[Boy Scouts] is a little tough at first, but once you have friends, it’s very easy,” Acosta said.  “He gets along with all the Scouts, he’s a ‘trooper,’” Cesar said. “Scouting is a great program for any child, whether they have physical or mental limitations. It’s very inclusive, and helps them with their self esteem.”

 Acosta has been part of food and clothing drives for MEND (Meet Each Need with Dignity) in Pacoima.

But, the community service project that earned him the Eagle Scout award was for his planning and leadership in creating the Seeds of Hope Community Garden at St. Simon Episcopal Church in San Fernando.

With a team of volunteers, Acosta’s project was realized.

An irrigation system was installed in the garden. Volunteers removed trees, laid wood chips and painted picnic benches. While Acosta and a group of volunteers were able complete the project  in one day, it took months of planning and 148 hours to complete.  It’s fitting that Acosta would choose to  create a  garden, “I wish my future life would be being the next [great] cook,” he said.  Acosta currently  attends the Miller Career and Transitioning Center in Reseda, a special education school that prepares students with disabilities for a number of professions and life skills.

He is currently taking culinary art classes.

At the ceremony, San Fernando Vice Mayor Sylvia Ballin mentioned Acosta’s parents, “This kind of incredible achievement couldn’t have been accomplished without the help  of his parents.  Ballin who has a special needs granddaughter,  said that she would like to recognize the city’s newest Eagle Scout and his parents at a future council meeting.

Cardenas presented Acosta with an American flag flown over the White House.

“I don’t give out many of these flags, but I can’t think or anyone more deserving,” Cardenas said.

For Cesar, the achievement reached by his son is proof that with perseverance and support, anyone can reach their goals.

Diana Martinez contributed to this article.