If you were to tell a time traveler from any year before 2020 about William Shuster’s Eagle Scout project, that visitor might furrow their brow.
“Say what? He made face coverings for senior citizens? And he planned everything without a single in-person meeting?”
Welcome to Eagle Scout projects in the age of COVID-19.
For more than 100 years, Scouts have adapted to meet their community’s most pressing needs. When the moment has demanded it, Scouts have found creative solutions to problems others might try to step around. No pandemic has changed (or ever will change) that fact.
In May, William led an effort to create, collect and donate face coverings for a local senior center. He made 248 face coverings — far exceeding his planned goal of 50.
We talked to this soon-to-be Eagle Scout from Troop 433 of Nottingham, Md. (Baltimore Area Council), to learn more about how he executed an Eagle project in these unprecedented circumstances.
William’s Eagle project, step by step
Here’s a high-level overview:
- Find a need: William discovered that the Jacksonville Senior Center in Phoenix, Md., desperately needed face coverings. “I heard from my parents that people were selling masks,” William says. “So I decided to see if I could give some away for free.”
- Develop the project: William created a plan and secured district and council approval — all by email and phone.
- Gather materials: The Life Scout found materials through Facebook, email and text messaging. Some of the donated fabric showed off the community’s love of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens.
- Learn how to sew: William’s mom, Dawn, taught him how to use the sewing machine. He picked it up quite quickly.
- Recruit and train volunteers: William asked his troopmates, family and friends to help with his project. He sent each of his volunteers the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines on how to sew a homemade face covering and talked them through the process over Zoom.
- Make the face coverings: William and his helpers wanted to create 50 face coverings. They made 248 — nearly five times their goal. Each face covering was sealed in a plastic zip-top baggie alongside a card explaining the proper way to wear a mask.
- Distribute the face coverings: William delivered the face coverings to the senior center so leaders could distribute them to the community’s older residents.
“William supplied seniors with face coverings,” Dawn Shuster says, “but really he supplied them with some freedom to obtain things they may need from the store.”
An Eagle project during COVID-19
It may be time to add a 13th point to the Scout Law: flexible.
William originally planned to complete an Eagle Scout project for the local parks and recreation department. With the department’s programming on hold, he had two options:
- Wait it out. After all, William is only 14.
- Find a different project.
If the idea behind an Eagle project is to help other people (while also teaching the Scout about leadership, project management and budgeting), then why wait? William knew there are people who needed help right away.
The adaptability didn’t end there. When he couldn’t hold face-to-face meetings, William scheduled meetings on Zoom. He made phone calls. He got really good at writing professional-sounding emails.
“Don’t let obstacles stop you from pursuing your project,” William says. “My biggest obstacle was the pandemic, so I looked for a project that would be useful during the pandemic.”
One thing he’d change
No Eagle project is perfect. You might run out of money, end up with too many materials or underestimate the time you’ll need to finish.
(How fitting that lesson is. Once they start a career, Scouts will find the same is true of work projects.)
For William, the actual project went smoothly, and the speedbump came at the end.
During the course of the project itself, William neglected to record the number of hours he and his volunteers had spent working. When it was time to record those totals in his Eagle project workbook, William spent a ton of time retracing steps and crunching numbers.
That can be avoided, William tells his fellow Scouts, by keeping a daily log as you go.
“Keep a journal with your activities related to the project, and write down the hours,” he says. “It will make it easier to total them at the end.”
From her viewpoint as mom, sewing instructor and project volunteer, Dawn Shuster says she’s proud of the work that her son put toward the effort.
“This was a very impactful choice given current events,” she says. “I was impressed with the amount of work he was able to do and proud of his choice to help seniors in need.”
Further reading: Sewing safety tips
Read these tips for staying safe while sewing.