Boy Scout Robbie Cortese didn't have far to look to find ideas for his Eagle Scout project.
It stared him in the face every Sunday at St. Anne Catholic Church in Castle Shannon, where the 14-year-old Baldwin Township boy works as an altar server.
"I've been looking at this wall every year and seeing it lean and lean even more," Robbie said of the 162-foot retaining wall alongside the 50-year-old church.
"He knew right off the bat that he wanted to give back to the church," said Robbie's mother, Kathleen Cortese. "Religion is important to him."
Held aloft by aging railroad ties, the wall was nearing collapse. With an estimated price of $16,000 to fix it and dwindling resources available to the parish, things didn't look good.
"They were really bad," said the Rev. Bob Cedolia of the rotting railroad ties. "The wall was starting to come down."
Robbie, a ninth-grader at Baldwin High School and member of Boy Scout Troop 65 in Mt. Lebanon, knew a good way to help the church would be to volunteer to fix the wall as his Eagle Scout project, but he and his parents quickly realized it would be a monumental, time-consuming and expensive task.
"I really wanted to help the church," he said.
So, late last year, Robbie set about raising funds and gathering volunteers, not just for general labor but the skilled jobs he knew would be necessary.
"Everyone has told me that it's a big project, but I've had help," said Robbie, who enlisted fellow scouts and his cousin, professional landscaper Russell Tortoreti.
Robbie and his parents, including dad Robert Cortese, spent three days collecting $800 worth of donated supplies from local lawn care and pipe contractors, including Evey True Value Hardware, Cox Plumbing and JMD Construction, then hunkered down in their kitchen with Robbie's grandparents to make 250 hoagies that Robbie sold to raise another $800 for the project.
"We were so overwhelmed by the outpouring of people," Mrs. Cortese said. "People were just stopping by and pitching in and helping," and making donations for what parishioners now call "Robbie's Wall."
The church kicked in $6,000 to purchase 553 concrete landscaping blocks, which were offered at cost from Homecraft Building Center, and Robbie made announcements every week at mass, seeking donations from parishioners.
He wasn't disappointed.
"I was surprised that people donated so much," Robbie said.
With each 16-inch block weighing 83 pounds, stacking and moving them along the staggered 15- to 39-inch high wall was an arduous task that took about 600 hours.
"It feels a lot better now," said Robbie, who wrapped up the project last week after 10 days of work that also including installing donated drainage pipe, mulch and perennial plants.
Father Cedolia, who wanted the project to be completed in time for last week's annual Novena celebrations, said he was more than pleased.
"It was a big endeavor, and he did it," Father Cedolia said. "He did a great job."
Though Boy Scouts are required to complete a community service project before the age of 18 to earn Eagle Scout status, Robbie did so at a particularly young age, said one of his leaders, and with an unusually ambitious project.
"Some people thought that it was too aggressive," said Troop 65 assistant scoutmaster John Neuhaus about Robbie's project. "I told Robbie, 'do whatever you feel you can.' "
Mr. Neuhaus, who has been involved with Scouting for 38 years, served as a mentor for Robbie, helping him with organizational and paperwork tasks. But Robbie did the lion's share of the work himself, Mr. Neuhaus said, showing his leadership skills by attacking the project head-on.
"He did it all on his own, and that's what this project is all about -- the boy taking a leadership role and getting the project done," Mr. Neuhaus said. "I think he did a great job."
Robbie was a natural at Scouting when he joined four years ago, his mother said. Last year, he was inducted into the Order of the Arrow, which is Scouting's national honor society.
"He was never sports-inclined," Mrs. Cortese said of her son, who also was a member of the student council at Harrison Middle School and plays bass drum for the Baldwin marching band. "He just put everything into Scouting. I am really proud of him."
Parishioners also approved of the project and weren't shy with praise for Robbie during Sunday services this week.
"We couldn't get out of church," Mrs. Cortese said. "People were raving about how it looked."neigh_south
Janice Crompton: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-851-1867.