Eagle project brings awareness about organ donation to Utah’s roads and highways

Catcher McCardell stands in front of the Utah Capitol building. (Courtesy of Melissa Majchrzak)

The road to an Eagle Scout service project can begin anywhere. It might even begin on an actual road.

Last year, Catcher McCardell was on a family vacation in Colorado when he engaged in a timeless road trip pastime: seeing how many different kinds of license plates he could spot.

One in particular caught his eye. It said, “Donate Life: Be an Organ Donor.” A quick search on his phone led Catcher to realize that his home state of Utah was not one of the 28 states with a specialty plate promoting organ donation.

Right there in the car, a plan was hatched.

For his Eagle Scout service project, Catcher and the Scouts and adults he led navigated the complexities of state government to help bring Utah its first “Donate Life” license plate, which will raise awareness about the critical need for organ, eye and tissue donors.

“I don’t think I knew how much work this project would be when I first came up with the idea,” Catcher tells Bryan on Scouting. “Once I got it started, though, I just had to keep going. People are literally dying waiting for an organ transplant, so I’ve had to just learn how to do some hard things and get it done.”

Catcher is a 14-year-old Life Scout in Troop 34 of the Crossroads of the West Council, which serves Scouts in Utah, Southern Idaho and Western Wyoming.

We caught up with Catcher and his assistant Scoutmaster mom, Michelle, to learn more.

An idea is formed

Catcher had the right question: Why doesn’t Utah have a license plate promoting organ donation?

Now he needed to find the answers. Each state has its own method for suggesting a new specialty plate — whether it’s a plate celebrating a local sports team, raising awareness about an important cause or even supporting the Boy Scouts of America.

Catcher’s mom, who works at the University of Utah Hospital, introduced Catcher to Allyson Gamble, a heart transplant recipient and the executive director of the Utah State Capitol Preservation Board.

Gamble then connected Catcher with Utah state Rep. Paul Ray.

Catcher told Ray about the need for more organ donors, including some sobering statistics like this one: Each day, 17 people die waiting for an organ transplant.

“People of every age can be affected by organ, eye and tissue donation, and I’ve seen how donation can help others,” Catcher says. “It just seems like everyone should be an organ donor.”

Convinced, Ray agreed to sponsor the piece of legislation necessary to create a Donate Life specialty plate.

Sadly, Gamble died a few weeks after meeting Catcher. That tragic turn only intensified Catcher’s desire to make the license plate happen.

“I’ve had to lead meetings with different organizations, speak to members of the Utah Legislature and work closely with some adults that I didn’t know,” Catcher says. “I’ve been very lucky to have amazing Scout leaders to guide me through some of the more difficult things like speaking in public and doing press conferences. It’s really taught me how to lead my troop and learn to work with others.”

In February 2021, the bill (HB 272) was passed unanimously in both the Utah Senate and the Utah House of Representatives. In a touching tribute, the bill also renamed the state’s organ donation fund “The Allyson Gamble Organ Donation Contribution Fund.”

HB 272 was signed by the governor a month later. There’s one final step before the license plate becomes official: 500 Utahns must apply to purchase a plate.

Courtesy of Michelle McCardell

What he learned

Catcher says this whole process taught him to be a more confident public speaker, and it helped him understand the steps required to pass a piece of legislation.

“I’m not positive that I will ever need to present a bill to the state again, but it should help me with history and government classes in the future,” he says.

To other Scouts wanting to dream big when planning their own Eagle projects, Catcher says he’s rooting for you.

“Just set your goals and stick to them,” he says. “Scouting teaches kids how to be a better person and how to try things that are hard and accomplish them.”

And if your goal is to bring a Donate Life license plate to your state, go for it! Visit this blog post about Scouting plates and scroll to the section headed “Specialty license plates.” Click your state name to learn more about specialty plates in your state.

Some words from Mom

Michelle McCardell remembers feeling mixed emotions when Catcher presented the idea for his project.

“I was happy that he had come up with an idea and was a little nervous about how big the idea was, knowing that lots of legislative ideas don’t even make it to the governor’s desk for signature,” she says.

But the cause was one that she knew was too important to pass up.

“Organ, eye and tissue donation can improve the quality of life and save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people that are waiting for a second chance at life,” she says.

Michelle watched with pride as Catcher completed the project — a process that required him to learn patience.

“In today’s world, everyone expects everything to happen immediately,” she says. “Catcher had to create a timeline and stick with it, and when a bump in the road comes up, he’s had to figure out a plan to move around that bump.”

And while Catcher’s project has made headlines across the state, Michelle doesn’t think that’s the sole factor that determines whether an Eagle project was worthwhile.

“Every project, no matter how big or small, is equally important,” she says. “The most important thing is to find a project that means something to you and your community and be passionate about it.”

About Bryan Wendell 3140 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.