You could see the pandemic as a dark cloud over your best Eagle Scout service project ideas.
Or you could follow the lead of Lucas Davis and see this pandemic as a chance to help the less fortunate weather the storm.
Lucas, a Life Scout from Troop 17 of Millburn, N.J. (Northern New Jersey Council), built mobile screens and a custom-designed plastic door shield to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at a nonprofit working to end homelessness in his region of New Jersey.
In doing so, Lucas proved there’s no shortage of Eagle project ideas during the pandemic. In fact, places like homeless shelters and food banks need help now more than ever.
Lucas has been volunteering at the Elizabeth Coalition through his church for years. He’s well aware of the nonprofit’s mission: eliminate poverty and homelessness in Union County, N.J. So completing an Eagle project there was a natural way to rally fellow Scouts to a cause Lucas cares about.
“My advice to Scouts planning project during this pandemic would be to reach out to not only places in need but places that you have connections with and are impactful to your life,” Lucas says. “An Eagle Scout project is supposed to mean something to you — not just another service project but helping a place that leaves you feeling like you have made a real difference.”
How he did it
A month or two into the pandemic, Lucas started thinking about what businesses and organizations will look like when they reopen. How will these places adapt to operate safely? And how will nonprofits be able to pay for these necessary but costly changes?
That was going through Lucas’ mind when he contacted the Elizabeth Coalition.
“I reached out to them to find out what they would need to provide a safe environment for their social workers and the people they serve,” Lucas says.
Lucas discovered that the nonprofit had two primary needs:
- Free-standing plexiglass shields that could be moved as needed to protect workers and clients.
- A custom-built plexiglass shield that would cover the top half of a “Dutch door” but still allow papers to pass through a small open section at the bottom.
These two changes would help the Elizabeth Coalition serve the community while keeping its volunteers, employees and clients safe.
“I’m glad to say that my Eagle Scout project was a success in that everyone working at the Elizabeth Coalition will be able to use what I built, and I was able to help address an urgent need,” Lucas says.
How he did it safely
When planning, developing and giving leadership to their Eagle project, Life Scouts must consider safety. That’s been true since the first formal Eagle projects were completed beginning in 1965.
This isn’t just smart leadership practice. It’s part of the Eagle Scout Service Project Workbook every prospective Eagle must complete.
Addressing safety issues takes on additional significance during a pandemic. For Lucas, this meant reducing the number of volunteers working at the project site, requiring face coverings for all volunteers and keeping everyone at least 6 feet apart at all times.
“Most of the work was done off-site, meaning we had the space and time to do work while taking proper safety precautions,” Lucas says. “This proved to be much easier than working on-site.”
Lucas and his volunteers combined to put in 70 hours of work on the project. At the current value of volunteer time rate of $27.20, that’s $1,904 in service to the community.
But Lucas says he’s equally proud of the fact that his project helped some of his fellow Scouts complete the service hours they needed to advance to the next rank in Scouts BSA.
The actual installation of the plexiglass shield for the Dutch door couldn’t be completed from home. To install it at the nonprofit’s office, Lucas chose to use only volunteers in his pandemic cohort — which means members of his own family.
Lucas got that familial help from his cousin Nathan, a First Class Scout with Troop 84 of Somerville, N.J. (Patriot’s Path Council).
“Working alongside a family member who you’ll spend time with regardless is a good way to be socially responsible,” says Nathan’s dad and Lucas’ uncle, Matt Davis.
How he paid for it
Lucas budgeted $1,150 for all the materials he’d need for the project. He ended up raising more than $1,400 from 22 different donors.
“Thank you, Lucas, for being a doer in helping others to cope and survive during this pandemic,” one donor wrote.
“There is such a great need for supporting the homeless in our world today,” another wrote. “Very important work you have chosen for your project, Lucas.”
In the end, Lucas needed just $700 of the money he raised. The Elizabeth Coalition will use the extra money to purchase an air purifier and additional protective equipment for its workers and volunteers.
What he learned
2020 has been the year of things not going according to plan. Lucas’ Eagle project was no exception.
Design plans changed, equipment didn’t work out perfectly and volunteers had to reschedule. But Lucas adapted.
“As much as I tried to plan ahead, a lot of the time there were things that had to be adjusted,” Lucas says.
There might be no better lesson to prepare Lucas for life, a career and a family: change is inevitable.
But that’s a lesson Scouts shouldn’t hear from adults like me. Scouting works because it enables young people to experience life lessons for themselves.
“One thing that I learned about myself during my project was that I am able to make major changes on the spot,” Lucas says. “This is obviously very helpful in real world situations where things never go exactly to plan.”