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Student aims for Eagle Scout by donating haircuts to veterans

The idea to give free haircuts to earn Eagle Scout status came to Justin Becton after he noticed people ignoring veterans.

On a bus ride one day, he stood next to an older veteran in a military cap. It seemed wrong that no one got up to offer the man a seat.

“I wanted to do something different to make a statement,” said Justin, a senior at Western New York Maritime Charter School who is learning to cut hair at Chopafellaz, barber shop and salon on Bailey Avenue. “A lot of people give up their lives and sacrifice things to help us have freedom, to give us this opportunity to live our dreams … We actually never really, actually show our appreciation to them.”

Justin, who had started with a sweeping job at Chopafellaz, put out the word about free cuts for vets through his Scout troop, church and Facebook. Tuesday evening, about 20 veterans came for haircuts, including a woman who opted for brow shaping insteada.

A small crowd came together in the barbershop to help.

Scout volunteers kept hair swept up. Older barbers gave free cuts, too. Veterans, honored by the attention, told their stories to the people around them.

“I appreciated people appreciating us as veterans,” said William Webb, 89, who served during World War II.

The retired command sergeant brought along military coins he’s collected and told people about some of his 32 years of service. After enlisting at 16, Webb said, he finished pilot training and did some flying until they discovered he was underage. His reassignment included the Normandy invasion and the Red Ball Express truck convoy and ammunition supply line through France.

An Eagle Scout himself before the war, Webb liked Justin’s effort.

“I told him I appreciated him,” he said.

Chopafellaz owner Jason Maclin was proud to see so many ages together in his shop: “Four or five generations of men doing something positive.”

“Each one of the veterans was able to tell the children where they’ve been,” said Maclin.”You don’t see that nowadays.”

He now wants to offer free cuts to veterans every Tuesday in memory of his veteran father and uncle, who died last year.

“A lot of people go to the war and when they come back to the states, they are forgotten about,” Maclin said.

Scout leader James Morrell, who wasn’t sure the haircutting project would work at first, hopes Justin’s example will inspire younger Scouts to come up with their own creative endeavors.

“I have about two or three other boys in that track right now,” he said of his Eagle candidates. “We catch the boys, at this point, before they start smelling the ‘fumes’ – the car fumes and the perfumes … As leaders we have to catch them at 15, 16, put them on track and then it’s automatic.”

Five years ago, he returned to leading a Scout troop, now about 50 strong, after a hiatus. Justin’s bid for Eagle Scout is the first for the “renewed” St. Martin de Porres Troop 139, which meets in an old Catholic church building at Hastings and Bailey avenues.

“I was actually surprised how it came together,” Morrell said, “and how well it came together.”

For Justin, Tuesday’s haircuts mark the end of a yearlong crunch to become an Eagle Scout.

Thinking he was too old for Scouts, he dropped out when he got to high school. He came back after an adult convinced him Eagle status would make his resume stand out.

With 21 merit badges and a project to do before the deadline, his 18th birthday – Nov. 1 – he had to cram. Though he has only an essay to finish about his veterans’ experience and one last write-up for a badge, he’s decided that, even then, he won’t really be finished.

From here on out, he intends to aim for more Eagle Scout-worthy projects.

“I’m going to keep going,” Justin said. “My job is not going to be over when I turn 18.”