'She just loves it'

LaFazia becomes first girl to reach Pinewood Derby Regionals

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Seven-year-old Ali LaFazia is an adventurer, a Wolf in Cub Scout Pack 20 Johnston and dedicated volunteer. Now, she can add pioneer to her already strong resumé.

LaFazia recently became the first and only girl to head to the Pinewood Derby Regionals for the Boy Scouts of America’s Narragansett Council, which were held at St. Rocco’s Church in March. Ali’s mother, Sheri, spoke to the Sun Rise over the phone last week and said that Ali officially joined the Boy Scout program last year. Sheri said her daughter, who is one of five girls in the local program, truly feels like a part of the pack.

“My son [Derek] joined the Boy Scouts in first grade, and [Ali] went to every meeting. And when she got the OK for girls to come in, she wanted to be like her big brother,” Sheri said. “She just loves it. She loves to be outside.”

LaFazia said that, while Ali didn’t place in the regionals, she enjoyed herself and that’s “what Scouts is all about.” She did receive a trophy for Judge’s Choice in design, though, and had plenty of friends on hand to support her.

“Thank you, Ali, for inspiring our cubs,” Mark DaPonte, a leader with Troop and Pack 20 in Johnston, wrote in an email to the Sun Rise. “We can’t wait to see what she does next year!”

Ali isn’t the only one in her Scouting group making strides. Her den leader, Warwick’s Laurie Willcomm, is one of the first female den leaders in the state, Sheri LaFazia said.

Ali has also had a major obstacle to overcome – her diagnosis with a rare allergic immune disorder called eosinophilic esophagitis three years ago. Sheri said the disorder requires plenty of gastrointestinal appointments, and she’s undergone years of feeding therapy.

It hasn’t stopped Ali, who Sheri called an “amazing girl and a fighter,” from accomplishing her goals, though. Her troop has been behind her all the way.

“It’s like a big party, it really is,” Sheri said. “They’re getting educated in many different areas. It’s absolutely wonderful … what was most amazing about the Pinewood Derby was that kids who weren’t even in the competition from her troop came out to support her.”

Her brother has been very supportive of Ali’s inclusion into the pack, Sheri said, and Ali has no trouble fitting in. She was to do “all the things the boys do,” and Sheri noted that Ali isn’t afraid of a challenge.

“She knew her Scout law and oath before some of the new ones,” Sheri said. “She’s just excited to be a part of it. She just really found her niche. She likes helping the community. She likes all the events that they do.”

Ali and the members of Pack 20 have done their fair share of volunteer work across the town, too. They’ve gone to the Johnston Senior Center this year to wrap gifts, and they have also placed flags at Highland Memorial Park Cemetery to honor veterans’ memories. Sheri said it’s “nice for the little ones, they’re learning more about the history of the country and the outdoors.”

The pack was even recognized last year by Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea during a Family Scouting event at the State House.

“They’ve been great,” Sheri said. “They’ve just embraced her. They encourage her, give her guidance, they’re her cheerleaders … This has been an all-boys club for a long time, but to be honest, they have so much fun together.”

Sheri put down the phone during the interview to ask Ali what she enjoys most about Scouts, to which she replied with an adventurous trifecta – hiking, fishing and camping.

Her hard work and perseverance was rewarded this past month, when she found out she had reached the Pinewood Derby Regionals and made history. Sheri said Ali did her “happy dance” and was very proud of her accomplishment.

Ali started to cry, and Sheri as well. Sheri said it’s important for Ali to know that anything is possible.

“I’m just excited for her to be on a level playing field,” Sheri said. “For her to be able to know she can.”

Sheri said she’s asked Ali what she wants to be when she grows up, to which she replied, “I want to be kind and an engineer.” Sheri said her daughter is already halfway there.

“I’m so proud to be her mother,” Sheri said. “We will always be cheering and supporting her.”

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