Guest Post: Honoring US Veterans by Rehabilitating Gravesites

Editor's Note: we're grateful to Aidan Scialfa and Boy Scout
Troop 55 in New Orleans, Louisiana for this report on using
Magpi to serve their community, and our veterans.

Honoring US veterans

Boy Scouts of AmericaAiden Scialfa, a Boy Scout with Troop 55 in New Orleans, Louisiana, wanted his Eagle Scout project to be something special. He was determined to help in honoring US veterans by rehabilitating their headstones and graves. He visited his former NJROTC commander, Bruce Nolan at Brother Martin High School and asked if he could help arrange this. Commander Nolan introduced him to Commander Doug Thomas of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post 8973 in New Orleans who told him of the VFW’s desire to rehabilitate and clean the veterans’ graves at Holt Cemetery in New Orleans (Holt is one of the few places in New Orleans where people are buried below ground so it is difficult to keep clean because it floods when it rains).

A challenging environment

VFW logoOne of the challenges faced by VFW volunteers was that there is no map or registry in Holt cemetery to indicate who is buried where and it takes a lot of time to go through the cemetery to find the veterans’ graves. This is because Holt cemetery is a potter’s field cemetery and the grave sites are reused after a few years (because it has been full for quite some time). Some plots have headstones and others do not. Some graves have borders and others do not. The rows are sometimes crooked and sometimes two converge into one or there is a break in one which continues later. The rows are not numbered.

Aiden’s discussions with Commander Thomas led to a new plan for his Eagle Scout project: to create a database identifying where in the cemetery veterans are buried, the condition of graves, and as much information about these veterans as possible. This would greatly facilitate the VFW’s work in cleaning the headstones and also help them estimate how much money had to be raised — or material donated — to complete the rehabilitation over the next couple of years.

Mobile data collection makes the job easier

Aiden discussed his new plan with his father who suggested that they use Magpi mobile data collection because the job would be done much faster if volunteers could use their cell phones to enter the location and data found on the headstone. Magpi also had the advantage of linking photos of the headstones with the plot location. Commander Thomas and Aiden liked the idea of using Magpi so Aiden submitted his proposal to the BSA leadership who approved the project.

The database created for this project has only a few fields: section, row, plot, name of deceased, war in which served, rank, dates born/died, and fields for a photo of the entire plot and a close-up of the headstone. The ability to take and link photos in Magpi meant that variables needed to describe the condition of the plots and headstones did not have to developed.

The plan was that one group of volunteers would walk each row in the cemetery and place an American flag on veteran’s headstone. A second group of volunteers would then follow – going directly to graves with an American flag rather than stopping at each on to see if a veteran was buried there. They would take photos and entered the data found on the headstones using their phones on which Magpi would be installed.

Scouts find a way

In some cases, the headstones were so faded and worn that it was difficult to read from the photos.  This constraint was overcome by adding a variable “are the words and numbers on the headstone legible?” If the headstone was legible — and the photo taken was clear — the volunteer did not have to spend time entering the information found on the headstone; they would go to the next grave with the flag. If the headstone was only partially legible or so worn that it was difficult to read from the photo,  the volunteer entered the data at that time. This allowed the work to go much more quickly so having fewer volunteers was not an obstacle. In the days following the project day, Aiden and others viewed the uploaded photos and completed the data entry for those graves.

“If I had not used Magpi, my project would have been a lot more difficult and taken a lot more time. I think I would have had to choose a different, simpler project to help me earn my Eagle Scout rank” — Aidan Scialfa

Luckily, Aidan and his troop-mates were able to use Magpi to help in their plan for honoring US veterans, and to do so effectively and efficiently.

Learn more about the Boy Scouts of America.


Also published on Medium.

Mobile Data Collection Guide

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