2020 Southern Region Eagle Project of the Year: Giving veterans a place to call home

Every time he drove by the Sumner County Veterans Home, Mason Wettengel couldn’t help but think about the sacrifice of the veterans inside. And he couldn’t help but notice something else about the place.

“I could tell that the converted 1950s motel could probably use some extra help,” Mason says.

One day, Mason parked his car and walked inside. He talked with two veterans about the home and learned that it had many apartment units that were empty because of unlivable conditions inside. Then he thought about the 700-plus homeless veterans in Tennessee.

Instead of lamenting that “someone should do something,” Mason did. He turned the idea into his Eagle Scout service project. Mason renovated five apartments for previously homeless veterans in Gallatin, Tenn., a city about 30 miles northeast of Nashville.

Mason raised $22,000 from local businesses and members of the community for the home, which receives no state or federal funding. With that money, Mason and his volunteers completed an HGTV-worthy makeover. They added new flooring, reglazed the bathtubs, and brought in new furniture and appliances.

“It makes me feel wanted and loved,” veteran Eddie Nelson told WSMV-TV in Nashville, “and that we’re worth it.”

For his remarkable service to Tennessee veterans, the Eagle Scout from Troop 75 of the Middle Tennessee Council received the 2020 Glenn A. and Melinda W. Adams Eagle Scout Service Project of the Year Award for the Southern Region.

The 2020 Adams awards, detailed at the end of this post, recognize outstanding Eagle projects completed by young people who earned Eagle in 2019.

A bathroom in an apartment at the veterans home, before and after Mason and his volunteers renovated it.

Raising awareness, too

Mason did more than raise the spirits of five local veterans. He also raised awareness about the plight of homeless veterans in his community — an act of service that will broaden the impact of Mason’s project even more.

“I was surprised by our community’s lack of awareness that there was a veterans home in our county,” Mason says. “When I started my project, nine out of 10 people that I spoke to were unfamiliar with the home. Raising awareness was a very important part of my project, because they will need additional help in the future.”

Sure enough, the veterans home continued to benefit long after Mason’s project was completed.

“Because the project gained attention from news stories, the community and local businesses continue to help them,” Mason says.

After Mason’s project, two construction companies teamed up to replace the home’s roof — a gesture worth $40,000. Another group updated the home’s community room — a $20,000 effort.

“I was surprised by the overwhelming amount of support that I received from the community,” Mason says.

What he learned

Mason says he expected to learn important lessons about leadership, perseverance, time management, home improvement and public speaking. And sure, he learned all those through hands-on experience of the kind young people can’t get anywhere else.

But he learned something else, too.

“Most of all, it taught me appreciation for the things I took for granted,” he says.

The bedroom and bathroom of a finished apartment.
The bedroom and bathroom of a finished apartment.

Leading his peers

Mason transferred to Troop 75 right before starting on his Eagle project. He admits he was a little worried about persuading a group of Scouts to volunteer their time for — and then listen to — someone they had just met.

As it turns out, those worries were unfounded.

“Before I had even gone on my first camping trip with my new troop, they showed up for a workday,” he says. “We logged 72 service hours that day. None of these people had to help, but they chose to.”

Mason says leading taught him to be a better follower “because you realize how important it is to have great volunteers and what it takes to have a successful project.”

In other words: Before taking a single step, leaders should first walk a mile in the shoes of those they wish to lead.

Mason, like so many Eagle Scout hopefuls, benefitted from the mentorship of a great volunteer. For Mason, it was Mike Wilford, his project coach and the maintenance man at the local American Legion.

“Mike was always ready and willing to help me,” Mason says. “We worked a lot of Saturdays and Sundays, which were his days off. He was sacrificing his rest and free time to help me accomplish my goal.”

Advice for younger Scouts

What’s the secret to a great Scouting experience? It’s twofold, Mason says.

First, enjoy your time as a Scout: the campouts, the canoe trips, the hikes, the memories with friends. But also, Mason says, “work continuously toward getting your Eagle.”

Don’t wait until it’s too late, he means.

“The longer you wait, the harder it gets,” Mason says. “Classes are harder. There’s more homework. If you do sports, your coaches expect more from you. You will get your driver’s license, and you will have more freedom to do other things. You will want to put subwoofers in your car, and you will have to pay for it, so you will need to get a job. There will be college visits, ACT prep classes and applications. Don’t let anyone discourage you from wanting to move ahead and get it done. You will be so glad you did.”

2020 Eagle Scout Projects of the Year

This post is one of a quartet of articles recognizing four outstanding Eagle projects by Class of 2019 Eagle Scouts.

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

The award 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 Adams award.

Regional recipients get $500 each for future educational purposes or to attend a national or international Scouting event or facility. Their councils also get $500 apiece.

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

2020 Glenn A. and Melinda W. Adams Eagle Scout Service Project of the Year Award recipients

  • National winner (representing the Central Region): Alex Arehart of the Tecumseh Council
    • Designed, engineered and 3D-modeled an outdoor seating structure at local STEM school
  • Southern Region winner: Mason Wettengel of the Middle Tennessee Council
    • Renovated five apartments for veterans
  • Northeast Region winner: Timothy Maron of the Columbia-Montour Council
    • Built a “tiny house” for a previously homeless veteran
  • Western Region winner: Tanner Hyde of the Longs Peak Council
    • Improved wheelchair accessibility at a local park

Meet the Adams award recipients live on Facebook

Aaron Derr and Gina Circelli from Boys’ Life magazine will interview each of these recipients live on Facebook. Check out the schedule below. Can’t watch live? The interviews will live forever on the Boys’ Life Facebook page so you can see what you missed.

  • Alex Arehart, national winner: 2 p.m. CDT on June 19
  • Mason Wettengel, Southern Region winner: 2 p.m. CDT on June 22
  • Timothy Maron, Northeast Region winner: 2 p.m. CDT on June 29
  • Tanner Hyde, Western Region winner: 2 p.m. CDT on July 6
About Bryan Wendell 3032 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.