“It’s so weird to think about,” said 18-year-old Angel Fichera. “I actually got a fortune cookie the other day and it was like, ‘Don’t follow the path that’s already made. Make your own path into the trail.’ ”
It was a fitting quote because that’s exactly what Fichera, who’s about to become the first female to reach Eagle Scout status in South Philly history, did. If all goes as planned, Fichera will officially become an Eagle Scout after she presents her Eagle Scout project to her Scouting district’s board of review on Nov. 7. She’ll be the first female to accomplish this in the Triune District, which incorporates South Philly, Southwest Philly and Center City.
“It feels really good,” said the bespectacled young woman. “I always wanted to be an Eagle Scout before girls were allowed in because I used to do it with my brothers growing up. I watched them get all their accomplishments and I couldn’t.”
Fichera’s father Sam would take her older brother, George, to Boy Scout meetings growing up. Sam was a single father at the time, and with nobody to watch Fichera, she inevitably had to tag along. Even though Fichera wasn’t officially a Boy Scout – and couldn’t be due to gender restrictions at the time – she still participated in most of the activities.
“When I’d go with them, the staff would be like, ‘Ooh, finally a girl’ and stuff like that.”
But in 2019, the long-debated decision to formally allow girls into Boy Scouts came to be realized. Boy Scouts changed its name to Scouts BSA, opening the door for Fichera to become an officially recognized member. And that’s exactly what she did.
“When girls were allowed in, I really wanted to strive for it,” she said.
To date, she’s earned 28 merit badges, and is expecting to receive six more at her next awards ceremony. The hardest ones she’s had to earn were public speaking (“I get really shy in front of crowds that I don’t know”), photography (“Photography was hard because I couldn’t figure out how to work the camera”) and wilderness survival (“We had to make a tarp to sleep under out in the woods and the night I did it, it rained. I really wanted to quit, but I stayed at it”).
“She’s done more in two years than I’ve seen a lot of the boys do in six or seven years,” said her dad, Sam. “She’s taken the bull by the horns and said, ‘This is what I want. This is what I’m going to do.’ And she did it.”
The most difficult honor to earn, however, will be reaching Eagle Scout status. Like every Scout considered for the honor, Fichera had to complete a special project. Hers involved cleaning out the grassy area next to the graveyard at Trinity Lutheran Church, 18th and Wolf streets, which is where Fichera’s Troop 147 meets every week.
“It was a very junky area back there,” said Fichera. “It had glass bottles, and the bushes were taller than me. We cleared it out and put plastic and mulch down so no weeds can grow.”
With donations secured from a GoFundMe page and other sources, Fichera was able to procure a few picnic tables to make the space even nicer. She also added a book box, which is stuffed with child-friendly reading material that can be borrowed from the space.
“I just thought of it because the kids like to come outside – the younger ones – in our Scout troop,” said Fichera. “There’s really no place for them to sit down and play outside besides this parking lot or on the other side, there’s a parking lot.”
Fichera’s scoutmaster, Felicia Menna, called Fichera “very determined and very focused.”
“We’re beyond proud of Angel’s accomplishments,” Menna said. “I’ve known Angel now for five years and since then, I’ve seen her watch her brothers do all the stuff and see her want to do it and then watch her set her goals when she was finally able to be a part of it.”
Fichera’s been a big influence for many of the other younger girls in the troop. One of them is Felicia Menna’s daughter, Emmie.
“I’m really proud of Angel,” said Emmie. “I’ve been following in her footsteps since I first came into the troop when I was about 5 and we’ve always been friends since then.”
Emmie, 12, said that Fichera taught her how to push herself, set goals and “accomplish them even though sometimes they’re hard.”
After Fichera graduates high school next year, she hopes to go to college to become a teacher. She’d like to be certified to teach kids aged for pre-K through fifth grade, and she’s hoping to attend Neumann University.
“I love working with younger children,” she said. “I feel like their imaginations are wilder. I feel like when they get older, they get worse and their attitudes are worse.”
Fichera sees the decision to allow girls into scouting as a positive one because it no longer means that only boys have the opportunity to learn the many life lessons that come with scouting.
“I feel like it shows them that girls can do it, too,” she said. “I’m just trying to show them that if you put your mind to it, you can achieve your goal.”