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Scout overcomes life’s obstacles
By Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje
Rana Burr says she’s thrilled for son Montana, 15, who was diagnosed with autism when he was 6 but did not let that stop him from becoming an Eagle Scout.
Photo: BILLY CALZADAfirstname.lastname@example.org
Tall and gangly, he sometimes pauses in conversation as he processes what’s being said to him.
There have been a few other obstacles along the way, but Montana hasn’t let any of them impede his progress. He’s a computer whiz who’s started his own website (myautismrecovery.com). He’s a top-notch student. He’s an accomplished pianist. He’s co-captain of his Boy Scout Team 660.
And recently, Montana scaled yet another summit when he achieved Eagle Scout rank, reached by only 5 percent of Boy Scouts nationwide.
“It’s something that will look good on my résumé,” he quipped, sitting on a couch across from his proud mother, Rana Burr.
Dressed in full Scout regalia, complete with a sash holding the 27 badges — six more than required —that paved the way for his latest honor, Montana said he was compelled to go for the Eagle rank for its leadership opportunities.
“It’s one thing to earn the award. It’s quite another thing to be an Eagle Scout,” he said. “You not only have more duties, everyone is relying on you to be an example, to encourage others.”
Rana Burr can’t keep the smile off her face as she listens to her son.
The rank “has been a thrill for our entire family,” she said. “Especially for my husband, Kent, who reached the Life Scout rank, right below the Eagle. I think he’s sort of been living vicariously through Montana, to make sure he reached the Eagle, so he would have no regrets.”
Montana, who like his three younger sisters is homeschooled, began scouting when he was 8, as a social outlet.
To get all the merit badges, Montana had to overcome some physical hurdles, such as delays in his gross motor skills related to autism.
For instance, he struggled with the team sport requirement. (Other scouts cut him slack on the basketball court.) It took longer for him to swim relays. (He became the team mascot.) He initially was afraid the canoe would tip over. (It did.)
“But Montana learned it’s not the end of the world for your canoe to tip over,” his mother said. “He really showed a lot of resilience.”
To snag the Eagle, Montana had to complete a special project. His parents suggested a book drive. Montana took the idea and ran with it.
“San Antonio ranks really low on literacy,” he explained.
After his first attempt to gather books didn’t work, he put a collection box at his church. The donations started flowing in. Several big-time donors dropped off boxes and boxes of books. A local author gave signed books. Montana also put door hangers around his neighborhood, to good effect.
In the end, he collected close to 1,000 books and gave them all to San Antonio Youth Literacy, which promotes reading among at-risk youths.
Mary Flannigan, community development director, said Montana’s gift was invaluable.
“The books he gave will be used for our tutoring program as well as our book giveaway at 38 area elementary schools,” she said. “Because of him, hundreds of children will have books to read this summer. We couldn’t do this without donations like Montana’s. He’s an amazing young man.”
Brett Reeve, leader of Montana’s scout team, said he’s not surprised his co-captain attained the Eagle.
“He’s good with the boys and very detail-oriented, which makes him a good leader,” he said. “He does have a few challenges, but he’s really worked to overcome them. He’s an inspiration to the others. Plus, he’s got a really good sense of humor. When some scout big-wigs were interviewing him for the (Eagle) award, he was joking around with them. He makes people comfortable.”
For years, Montana has participated in Relationship Development Intervention (RDI), a program that helps kids and adults with autism and other disabilities increase their social reciprocity and other interpersonal abilities. His mother credits the program for much of Montana’s success.
Dema Stout, his RDI coach, helped Montana meet his personal goals, including Eagle Scout.
“Montana has the ability to meet long-term goals and he has really great support,” she said. “In addition to scouting, he’s very involved in his (Mormon) church. He gets up early every weekday to attend seminary classes.”
A long tradition of scouting exists in Mormonism, Rana Burr said.
Like any achiever, Montana has his eye on the future, including college, he said.
His ultimate goal? In this regard, he’s a typical, thoroughly modern teen.
“I want to own my own I-phone app company,” he said.