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An Eagle Scout's Project For the Ages

Young man's Eagle Scout project becomes a rallying point for Plainview Hospital and a way to enshrine those who made it special.

When you encounter an immovable obstacle, sometimes the answer isn’t to quit and give up.

Sometimes, the answer is to find a way around it.

Jacob Zipkin started digging his memorial garden in a lovely spot just outside the main entrance for a shady corner beneath a tree and surrounded by lush shrubs. He dug there for a while, the muscle-burning work of breaking hard ground.

As he worked in the summer heat, one thrust of his shovel struck a huge root beneath the surface. Removing the root might have killed or damaged the tree. Some people might have quit at that point.

“You have to stay committed to what you believe in,” said, Zipkin, 15, a 10th grader at . “There might be problems encountered along the way, but keep going. Don’t give up.”

“These kids today don’t fear anything,” said Herb McGrail, district advancement chairman of the Suffolk County Council, Boy Scouts of America.  “That’s Jacob: Fearless.”

Zipkin’s father, Mitchell, is an anesthesiologist at Plainview Hospital; his mom, Susan, is a nurse. In conversations with his family and scout leaders, Zipkin decided his Eagle Scout project should have a lasting impact on the community. There should be some way to honor all the people who made Plainview Hospital what it was.

During its 50 years in existence, the former Central General Hospital has treated thousands of area patients, delivered countless babies, diagnosed untold numbers of local people and sent them on the road to recovery, along the way for and quality of care.

More than 100 of these health professionals, men and women who gave much of their life to the community’s wellness, have died. How could all those health professionals, doctors, nurses, administrators – even the support staff, be honored and memorialized?

Zipkin’s solution was the memorial garden, an Eagle Scout project which took on greater meaning as his labors became reality.

The hospital, now a member of the North Shore LIJ Health Care System, produced a list of 100 names of people who had worked for the hospital and have since died.

Zipkin began the tedious process of contacting family members. People have moved away. Some simply couldn’t be located. But the families of more than 30 former employees were contacted. Zipkin was on his way.

It was at that point Zipkin realized the impact his project was having on people.

“I told them we wanted a way to honor deceased workers who had dedicated their lives to the hospital,” he said. “I contacted as many of them as I could.

“When they started to email me back, I got really emotional responses from the people,” Zipkin said. “That made me realize that this was a really big deal.”

He came up with a business plan to complete the work.

He raised the money himelf, $3,029 which paid for everything: He held a car wash. He sold car-wash vouchers. He solicited local businesses and big local corporations. He sold candy in the hospital's lobby. He went door to door.

He didn't quit.

K&K Mason of Melville offered Zipkin discounted rates and a lot of advice on how to install the memorial's bluestone tiles. He got North Shore Monuments to provide discounted engraving of the names. Bissett Nursery offered help and discounts on azalea bushes and pea gravel.

He began digging and hit the big tree root. He didn't quit.

The hospital granted permission to move the garden to a location about 20 feet south. Zipkin started digging all over again.

He designed the memorial so that new stones can be added with the names of future health professionals who have served the hospital. Fittingly, the names of doctors and nurses are engraved on the same blocks with maintenance workers and food service employees.

“Jake is an amazing young man who...has touched the lives of so many of our caregivers," said Michael Fener, executive director of Plainview and Syosset Hospitals. "While the bricks and mortar of a hospital are important, the heart of its hospital is in its people. By creating this garden, Jake has given Plainview Hospital a place to reflect and remember those who came before us—our colleagues, mentors and friends, and all members of the Plainview Hospital family.”

To become an Eagle Scout, you have to keep good records; Zipkin's counted more than 250 hours working on the project.

Earlier this month, the garden was dedicated in a ceremony outside Plainview’s Hospital. Scores of people attended, including some relatives of those whose named are enshrined in the garden of stone. Zipkin’s work was praised and held up as an example of what the community can do when they work together.

The well-spoken young man, wearing a sash covered in honor badges, has this advice for people to make a difference in their community:

“It’s important to plan for big events and to stay committed to what you are doing in and believe in.”

In other words: He didn't quit.

Vanessa Canner November 28, 2011 at 08:13 PM
Great story, Joe!!
Joe Dowd November 28, 2011 at 10:49 PM
Thanks, Vanessa. it was fun writing about such a remarkable young man and how his efforts will change the community and honor those who went before us. (My brother was born in that hospital, in 1966, so it's kind of amazing I got to cover such a story.)


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