2019 Western Region Eagle Project of the Year: Backpacking for underserved youth

Zack Moore (third from right) and the group prepare to enter the Desolation Wilderness.

The statement was equal parts heartbreaking and hopeful.

And at just five words long, it encapsulated the profound need for and transformative power of Zack Moore’s Eagle Scout project.

“I forgot there were stars.”

It was a cloudless final night of a four-day backpacking trip through the Sierra Nevada mountains. The group of 11 was in the middle of “thorns and roses,” where everyone takes turns saying what went well that day and what didn’t.

One young man, on his first ever backpacking trip, pointed to the skies. His rose was something made invisible by big-city light pollution back home: millions and millions of stars.

That type of ah-ha moment is exactly what Zack, an Eagle Scout from California, dreamed of when planning, developing and leading a once-in-a-lifetime backpacking trip for underprivileged youth.

“My goal is to expose kids to these beautiful natural places,” Zack says. “Then develop and support the leaders among them to bring more and more people from their community out each year.”

For his visionary steps to introduce the great outdoors to underserved communities, the Eagle Scout from the Pacific Skyline Council received the 2019 Glenn A. and Melinda W. Adams Eagle Scout Service Project of the Year Award for the Western Region.

The 2019 Adams awards, detailed in greater depth at the end of this post, recognize outstanding Eagle projects completed by young people who earned Eagle in 2018.

New experiences

For many kids from lower-income families living in a big city, even the closest natural spaces can seem a million miles away.

Zack finds that fact remarkably unfair. He considers himself lucky in life. He trekked at Philmont Scout Ranch, hiked across the Grand Canyon and backpacked the John Muir Trail.

“Every person should see what I have seen in the outdoors, regardless of their resources or where they come from,” Zack says.

Zack believes that everyone has a natural affinity for the outdoors. It’s just that not enough people are willing or able to get outside to experience nature.

“Once they’re out there, with the right gear, the right guidance, and set up to have a great experience,” Zack says, “nature will do the rest.”

The right gear

Backpacking is a bargain when compared to a weeklong beach or ski vacation. But the cost of obtaining suitable backpacking gear can be an obstacle for many.

For his project, Zack turned to Bay Area Wilderness Training, an Oakland-based nonprofit that helps underprivileged young people get outside.

Bay Area Wilderness Training let Zack borrow everything his backpackers would need for the trip, including 14 pairs of hiking boots, 12 fleece jackets, one cooking stove and much more.

Someone not affiliated with Scouting might have simply explained how to use this gear. Zack took it three steps further.

Using the EDGE method — explain, demonstrate, guide, enable — Zack helped the campers learn how to set up a tent, use a portable stove and wear hiking boots.

At a series of meetings and shakedown events, Zack built confidence in the young men that made the backpacking trip more enjoyable for everyone.

Ashanti Branch (left) and the group.

The right guidance

Zack’s Eagle project beneficiary was the Ever Forward Club, a nonprofit benefiting young men of color.

The club, founded and led by Ashanti Branch, helped Zack identify participants for the four-day, three-night backpacking trip. Branch recruited the young men, and Zack did the rest.

“The kids selected had never gone backpacking before, and the majority of them had never even camped in any form,” Zack says. “Trying new things out of one’s comfort zone can be distressing to kids, so it was important to prepare them as much as possible for the journey ahead.”

Branch, who joined the trip as an adult leader, called the journey “an incredible experience for the young men in our program.”

“I think that the learning continues long after the trip is over,” Branch says. “Our young men had an incredible adventure to learn about their own selves in a more holistic way.”

A great experience

As the trip progressed, Zack stepped more into the background. It wasn’t always easy to stay quiet, but he discovered that as he did so, several of the young men emerged as natural leaders.

“I learned on this trip that leadership was not about doing everything myself,” Zack says. “It was more about leading everyone initially, then letting kids from the group take what they learned to lead themselves and their peers.”

And that’s how the magic of this project will extend far beyond three nights in the wilderness. Even after his Eagle project was completed in summer 2018, Zack continued working. This summer, he recruited two standout young men from the first trip to each lead a trip into the wilderness.

“More leaders will make it possible to take more kids, creating more leaders, and so on,” Zack says. “Some day, as a result of these efforts, I hope to see more diversity in our national parks and wilderness areas, something I didn’t see anywhere growing up.”

Branch agrees. He believes that now is a critical time to introduce every young person to the world beyond iPads and iPhones.

“Where they’re not looking at a device to evaluate themselves — to evaluate what’s important to them … that can change our communities,” Branch says, “That can change our world. And we need more of that.”

Video recap

Zack created the following video about his project

2019 Eagle Scout Projects of the Year

This post is one of a quartet of articles recognizing four outstanding Eagle projects by Class of 2018 Eagle Scouts.

Each project covered in these posts received the Glenn A. and Melinda W. Adams Eagle Scout Service Project of the Year Award, or ESSPY.

The ESSPY process begins at the council level, where each council can nominate one outstanding project to the National Eagle Scout Association. From there, one project from each BSA region — Central, Northeast, Western and Southern — is selected to receive the ESSPY.

Regional ESSPY recipients get $500 for future educational purposes or to attend a national or international Scouting event or facility.

Next, a special selection committee of the National Eagle Scout Association selects a national winner from among those four recipients. The national ESSPY recipient gets $2,500 for future educational purposes or to attend a national or international Scouting event or facility.

2019 Glenn A. and Melinda W. Adams Eagle Scout Service Project of the Year Award recipients

  • National winner (representing the Southern Region): Garrett Johnson of Troop 81 in Tulsa, Okla. (Indian Nations Council)
  • Central Region winner: Luke Gwartney of Troop 83 in Olathe, Kan. (Heart of America Council)
  • Northeast Region winner: Peter Livengood of Troop 687 in Dunbar, Pa. (Westmoreland Fayette Council)
  • Western Region winner: Zack Moore of Troop 33 in Mountain View, Calif. (Pacific Skyline Council)
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About Bryan Wendell 3281 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.