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Steven Craney was 11 when he had to attend a town government meeting to earn his Boy Scout merit badge.
Steven sat at the packed Franklin town meeting listening to residents criticize the school budget and his teachers try to defend sports, music and art he had enjoyed. He could sit still no longer.
His mother, Lisa Craney, recalled that Steven remained poised as he addressed the emotional crowd on the importance of school funding and the "specialty" programs often targeted.
"That year they didn't cut the budget," Steven Craney said. "But a couple years later, they cut the specialty programs to part time."
Craney, now 18, will graduate June 20 from Norwich Free Academy. He and his parents, Lisa and Michael Craney, and his sister, Amber, 11, live in Franklin. His father is plant manager at Flanagan Industries in Glastonbury.
Young Craney credited his Boy Scout training for his confidence in addressing angry taxpayers. He had been giving presentations to fellow scouts and their parents from the time he joined as a Tiger Scout in first grade.
As his senior year winds down, Craney's public speaking skills are in demand. As class president, Craney addressed the NFA Alumni Association annual meeting. He gave the speech on service to 400 students and parents at the National Honor Society induction ceremony.
"While your academic and personal careers expand as the years go by," Craney told inductees, "it's important to remember just how essential service is to the community as well as to a person's spirit, and to make the effort to lend a helping hand whenever possible."
This week, he will speak at Class Night.
Craney has served as class president since 10th grade, the only year he had an opponent. None of the other candidates gave a formal speech, and for days, classmates stopped Craney to say they liked his speech.
"I said I wanted to make sure everyone really enjoyed high school," Craney recalled, "and said we would hold fundraisers, and I would keep in touch with my classmates."
Craney kept those promises and more, class adviser Denise Grant said. The Class of 2014 has raised almost $20,000 mostly with fun class events. Craney helped run the dunk booth and ice cream stand at Celebrate NFA Day, hosted talent nights and a spoof beauty contest "Mr. NFA." He brought in a hypnotist and hosted an improv night akin to the show "Whose Line is it Anyway?"
The money paid for class trips, proms, senior breakfast, a trip to Ocean Beach Park and the class gift to NFA, which Craney will announce at graduation.
Craney has always been a serious student, striving for A's and not accepting B's, his mother said. Last year, he joined NFA's Project Outreach to help tutor fellow students in history and English. This year, he is an errand runner - a duty reserved for the more responsible students.
Craney entered NFA with a natural talent for drawing. His free-hand drawings of four NFA buildings will adorn the Class of 2014 T-shirts and sweatshirts.
"When I got here, I wanted to be an architect," Craney said. "But I decided I didn't want to be tied to a computer. I'm more of a history-English guy."
Craney will attend Trinity College in Hartford to study international business. He loves cities, such as Hong Kong and Dubai. When he draws, it's usually cityscapes. At Trinity, he will study in the state's capital close to the hub of state government.
Craney hasn't given up on his small hometown - population 1,900 - and he remains a devoted Boy Scout. When he embarked on his Eagle Scout project in 2010, Craney wanted to build a park.
First Selectman Richard Matters suggested a 1.5-acre parcel next to the senior center and fire station that was overgrown with invasive Russian olive trees and weeds. His Boy Scout Troop 15 had to pitch tents on the pavement outside the firehouse, because this area was inaccessible.
Craney, a strapping 6-foot-1-inch teenager, recruited family friends who could operate heavy equipment. Kahn Tractor donated use of a backhoe. Fellow Scouts raked and pulled weeds. Volunteer firefighters help spread topsoil donated by Blue Slope Farm and the local Scott's Company. Craney and his parents spread grass seed donated by Norwich Agway.
The Scouts put together two picnic tables atop two concrete slabs. The entire project took three years, and "most of my summer," last year, Craney said.
More could be done at the still-nameless picnic area. Craney wants to talk to fire department leaders for ideas for a name for the park. But he said he would leave future improvements to the next generation of Franklin Boy Scouts, who might want to build a barbecue pit or a pavilion.
"I think it's nice that others can add to it in future projects," he said. "Everybody's been asking for a place like this."