When he started brainstorming Eagle Scout service project ideas, Ryan Kelley got a lot of advice.
He heard from friends, family members, Scout leaders — each with suggestions for how Ryan could make a lasting impact on the community of Old Town, Maine.
These generated lots of sparks, but no flame. The Life Scout from Troop 76 of the Katahdin Area Council wanted a project that matched his interests and would make the most of his skills and passions.
He wanted his project to be just that: his project.
“I got a lot of ideas given to me from other people about what I could do. For some people that can sit down and do something just to get it done, that’s awesome. But I’m not that type of person,” Ryan says. “I wanted something that I would enjoy doing and something that’s interested me for a long time — something that benefits a large amount of people to make the biggest impact I possibly could.”
Ryan planned, developed and gave leadership to a project aimed at making sure every student in his town in remote Maine had access to a working computer for remote school. The 16-year-old and his helpers collected donated desktops and laptops, cleaned and repaired the machines, and then sent them to students in need.
Ryan, who has been taking apart computers and putting them back together since he was 7, has already exceeded his goal of 100 computers with no plans of stopping just yet.
By turning a skill that interests him into an Eagle project, Ryan has perhaps the best piece of advice I’ve ever heard about selecting an Eagle project: “No matter what you’re interested in, there is a way to turn that into an Eagle Scout project,” he says. “That project that you enjoy doing and keeps you excited is going to be so much more valuable to you when you finally reach Eagle.”
A switch is flipped
Ryan was in second grade when he first started wondering what was going on inside the computer that helped him do homework, play games and watch videos.
He learned a lot from his dad, Christopher, who works in IT. And he educated himself the way we learn most everything these days: by watching YouTube videos.
In the years since, Ryan has built his own PC and enjoys upgrading its components whenever he can.
With that useful hobby having been a part of Ryan’s life for nearly a decade, it made sense that he’d return to it when thinking about Eagle projects.
“I was just sitting in the car one morning, and I was thinking about the e-recycling drive we did for the troop a while back,” he says. “I really enjoy working with electronics, so that project was extremely fun for me. I also started thinking of a YouTuber who built six PCs and gave them away to people who needed them.”
With those two ideas in Ryan’s head, the lightbulb moment arrived.
Restoring computers would harness his existing passions, serve the community and help keep gently used computers from ending up in a landfill.
“It’s super important for students to have a working computer — now more than ever,” Ryan says. “There are a lot of families who have expressed that they don’t have working computers that their children can use for their work and video meetings on the days outside of school.”
Powering up a plan
After figuring out his project idea, Ryan set a goal of finding and restoring 100 computers. Here’s how he did it:
- Make a plan: Ryan figured out what materials he’d need, how many people he’d need to recruit as volunteers, a location and the project beneficiary. He wrote and submitted his project proposal.
- Spread the word: Ryan advertised his in-person drop-off event through flyers, news articles, social media and word of mouth.
- Recruit help: Ryan asked friends and fellow Scouts to volunteer their time and encouraged members of the community to donate gently used laptops.
- Open drop-off locations: In addition to the in-person drop-off event, Ryan created drop-off locations at schools in his district for people who wanted to donate their computers that way.
- Run the event: Ryan held the main drop-off event and assigned different teams. One group accepted the computers and thanked donors. Another sorted the machines. A third began installing the Chrome operating system on each laptop.
- Run a work session: Ryan led a second event just for his volunteers where they could work on getting the computers ready.
- Present the laptops: Ryan proudly delivered the refurbished laptops to the school district.
- Get interviewed: News of Ryan’s project traveled across the state, and he quickly learned what it feels like to get interviewed. He was interviewed by WABI-TV, the Bangor Daily News and other local media.
In the end, Ryan surpassed his goal of refurbishing 100 computers. But with the district’s need still not fully met, he’s not done. He plans to continue restoring donated computers even after his formal Eagle project is over.
What really clicked
Ryan shared some important lessons from this impressive effort.
- Stay safe during COVID: Ryan ensured that all volunteers stayed at least 6 feet apart and wore face coverings while working on his project. He also thoroughly disinfected the computers once they arrived and again before they were delivered to the district.
- Don’t forget the chargers: Ryan encountered an unexpected speed bump when several computers arrived without chargers. With approximately 100 million different types of laptop chargers out there (OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration), finding and ordering the right ones was a challenge.
- Delegate the right way: When splitting volunteers into teams, don’t just have them number off. Make sure that each group includes an expert in what’s being done. “I had to make sure I delegated those who knew the most about PCs into the other groups evenly so that they could teach the others and supervise their work,” Ryan says.
Three cheers for Dad
You won’t find a single Eagle Scout who did it alone. I can tell you firsthand that a Scout needs an adult role model willing to support their journey toward Scouting’s highest award. Many Eagle Scouts, myself included, needed someone to give that little push when we were feeling a little less motivated. We needed that support section at mile 20 of this wonderfully wild marathon called Scouting. For me, this was my Eagle Scout father, Don.
For Ryan, it’s his dad, Christopher, who also happened to be his Scoutmaster.
“Thank you so much for pushing me to always try and do a little more in Scouting, and thank you for talking with me and keeping me in Scouting when I wanted to quit when I was young,” Ryan tells his dad. “The journey I’ve had already is one of the most important journeys I’ve ever had, and even after I get my Eagle Scout, I hope to continue that journey in the troop and in Scouting at a state or even national level. I’ve met so many friends along the way, and I’ve had so many opportunities because of it. It’s all because of you. Thank you, Dad.”
When I shared those words with Ryan’s dad, he was floored — and jokingly assured me he didn’t tell his son to say that.
Christopher says his son learned to care for others in two important places: at church and in Scouting.
“Scouting has made an in-your-face impact on what it means to be a good citizen by serving and meeting needs and being a positive contributor in your own community,” Christopher says. “With all the outdoor skills, the fellowship, the friendships and the fun that is experienced in Scouting, leadership and service to others is the hidden jewel that make Scouting so valuable in today’s world.”
Where to find Eagle project ideas
While it’s a good idea for Scouts to follow Ryan’s advice and select a project that means something to them, that doesn’t mean they’re on their own to come up with ideas.
Resources like the Boys’ Life Eagle Project Showcase offer an important source of inspiration for Life Scouts looking for that perfect project idea.
Encourage your Scouts to scroll through the site and see if something sparks their interest.