Despite challenges, local teen becomes Eagle Scout

The Grand Haven Township boy took his official oath as an Eagle Scout. Although he worked hard to earn the recognition, 16-year-old Malott said it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of his troop, parents and community.

At seven days old, doctors at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital diagnosed Sam with Prader-Willi syndrome. The syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that “results in a number of physical, mental and behavioral problems,” according to the Mayo Clinic. Individuals with the syndrome never feel full after eating and feel a constant desire to eat.

“A lot of families don’t find out until later,” said Sam’s mother, Sara Malott.

When a new job opportunity for Sam’s father brought the family to West Michigan from Brighton several years ago, Sara said they looked for a school that would support Sam and a community that would accept and understand him.

Through the years, the family has locked their cupboards and refrigerator to prevent Sam from constantly eating. Sam is under constant supervision, and his obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety are kept in checked through medication.

Besides Boy Scouts, Sam has a black belt in taekwondo and plays the tuba in Grand Haven High School’s band.

“Sam’s syndrome speaks to goals and earning something,” Sara said.

To become an Eagle Scout, a scout must be active in their troop for at least six months after becoming a Life Scout. He also has to live by Scout Law and Scout Oath principals, and earn a total of 21 merit badges including: citizenship in the nation, communication, citizenship in the community, personal fitness, citizenship in the world, emergency preparedness or lifesaving, personal management, swimming or hiking or cycling, camping, environmental science or sustainability, and family life.

Sam said the cooking merit badge was the most challenging for him because of the syndrome. Troop 14 Assistant Scoutmaster John Vandergriff worked with Sam to earn the badge, which consisted of planning and purchasing meals, staying on a budget, and cooking a certain number of meals.

“I personally told Sam, ‘We’ll just have to get through this together,’” Vandergriff said.

Through the three years Sam has been part of the Spring Lake troop, it has been a growing experience for everyone involved, Troop 14 Scoutmaster Scott Navarre said. Sam openly shared his struggles with the troop and expressed what he needed help with. Navarre said it taught the troop to consider how things affect others rather than focusing on what is important solely for them.

“It’s really inspiring to see both Sam grow as an individual and what he accomplishes, and growth in other youth,” Navarre said.

Vandergriff said he has watched young men strive to obtain their Eagle ranking, but none have had to overcome the same obstacles as Sam. He said Sam is one of the bravest people he’s met.

“He’s always got a smile on his face,” Vandergriff said. “He’s an inspiring young man.”

Sam’s father, Brad Malott, said the Grand Haven/Spring Lake community has also been accepting and understanding, which has been impressive.

Sam, who will be a sophomore at Grand Haven High School this fall, said he loves the support he receives and feels.

“I feel like this is the best place for him,” Sara said.

During the Eagle Scout ceremony, Sam received a medal, certificate and handkerchief, and presented his parents with Eagle pins.

As a way to honor and recognize Sam’s accomplishments and the challenges he’s overcome, Vandergriff obtained a flag flown over the state Capitol on the day Sam officially became an Eagle Scout. The scouts officially retired the flag.

“It’s not something I would do for just anybody,” Vandergriff said.

Although Sam has completed his Eagle Scout work, he’s staying with the Spring Lake troop to be a junior assistant scoutmaster. He plans to help, motivate and encourage younger scouts to achieve their Eagle rank. Sam said it’s his way to give back after having received the support from his troop and community.

“It’s my duty as an Eagle,” Sam said proudly.