In life, you’re going to encounter doubters.
They’ll be there with questions any time you try something big — like taking a 10-day backpacking trip, writing your first novel or planning an exceptionally involved Eagle Scout service project.
“Why not a three-day trip?” they’ll say. “You should start with a short story,” they’ll suggest. “Wouldn’t a smaller Eagle project be just as good?” they’ll ask.
Ethan Anderson heard the doubters, and Ethan Anderson dismissed them.
For his Eagle Scout service project, the young man from Tennessee led a team of Scouts and volunteers in the construction of a blacksmith shop at the Historic Ramsey House.
Ethan raised $20,000 and spent more than two years working on the finished product: a 12-by-15-foot log cabin with a cedar shake roof and brick forge. In his final report, Ethan calculated that he and his volunteers put in 1,555 hours (the equivalent of nearly 65 days) on the project — “but in truth there were probably more hours.”
Ethan’s project made local headlines. When WATE-TV reporter Don Dare (himself a longtime Scouting supporter) asked Ethan why he did it, the young man had a perfect response.
“My dad asked me when I first started figuring out what I wanted to do as my Eagle Scout project: ‘Did I want a monument or a legacy?’” Ethan told WATE. “I wanted a legacy and not just a monument. I think that it will be a great tool to be able to show younger generations what life was like back in the 1700s and 1800s.”
Ethan, 17, is now an Eagle Scout member of Troop 500 of Corryton, Tenn., part of the Great Smoky Mountain Council. Bryan on Scouting caught up with the ambitious young man to learn more.
An idea forms
During fall break in his freshman year of high school, Ethan was assigned a school project.
He was given several options, and “being a fan of history,” Ethan chose to visit a local historic landmark to research its past.
That led him to the Historic Ramsey House, built in 1797 and inhabited by one of the first families to settle in the Knoxville area. On Ethan’s tour, his guide, Sue Jones, told him about the house’s desire to expand from a house museum to a living history museum — something akin to Colonial Williamsburg.
And then Jones mentioned blacksmithing — a skill Ethan learned from his uncle in fourth grade. The confluence of three of Ethan’s passions — history, blacksmithing and helping others — was impossible to ignore.
“When I was still on the tour, I knew immediately that I would rebuild the blacksmth’s shop,” he says.
The doubters creep in
Ethan got tired of hearing sentences that started with “That’s great, but …”
As in, “That’s great, but won’t that cost too much?” Or, “That’s great, but won’t that take too long?”
“I had several people tell me the project was too big and I should either choose something else to do or scale it down a lot,” Ethan says. “That was really daunting to me at first, but then my parents told me that it is always wise to listen those around me, but ultimately the decision to succeed or not succeed was mine.”
And so Ethan politely listened and then kept on going. He thanks his parents for that.
“They have always pushed me go above and beyond in just about everything I do,” Ethan says. “They believe in me no matter how hard something might be. They have always told me that, with hard work and perseverance, I could do something — even though it might seem hard or even impossible.”
Finding the funds
Another source of doubt: the estimated $20,000 to complete the project. Undaunted, Ethan got to work raising money and securing donated materials and supplies.
“I was also very blessed to have some suppliers sell me materials at a reduced rate — namely the logs for the main cabin structure and the cypress roof trusses,” Ethan says.
To raise money, Ethan created a fundraising website, held an event at the Ramsey House called BBQ and Blacksmiths and even earned funds the old-fashioned way: by asking nicely.
Ethan’s mom pitched in, too, making rag dolls to sell at the Ramsey House Gift Shop, with all proceeds going to the project.
Through the fundraising process, Ethan says he became more comfortable speaking to others — a skill sure to help him throughout his life.
“I think I am much more confident at speaking in front of large audiences and really to speaking to people in general,” he says.
Leading the way
During his two-plus years of work, Ethan had time to reflect on why the BSA requires young people to plan, develop and give leadership to a project before earning the Eagle Scout Award.
“I think it’s a requirement because it puts to use all the skills you learn throughout the different ranks and merit badges you earn in Scouts,” he says. “It allows you to demonstrate your mastery of those skills, and it also allows you to give back to your community.”
That’s why young people can’t begin work on the Eagle project until they are a Life Scout — because the skills learned in Scouting are cumulative. By the time they reach Life, the young person can see the Eagle project as the ultimate symbol of their Scouting journey.
“I think if you choose a project carefully and thoughtfully, the Eagle project can be the epitome of ‘Do a Good Turn Daily,’” Ethan says.
The view from Mom and Dad
As parents, we know it can be tempting to step in and help. But real learning happens when you let your children figure it out for themselves.
For Ethan’s parents, Scoutmaster Branden Anderson and committee member Misty Anderson, that has meant supporting their son’s Eagle project idea from a comfortable distance.
“Initially, I thought it was the perfect project for him because it brought together two things he was very passionate about: blacksmithing and history,” Misty says. “I was a little worried whether the Ramsey House director would be able to look at a 14-year-old boy and believe he could make this happen, but I knew he had to give it a try.”
“At first, I had no idea what the project would look like or what would be involved in rebuilding the blacksmith’s shop, but I was confident that he would develop a plan,” he says. “There are many ways he could have chosen an easier road to become an Eagle, but he chose the harder road. I was proud of him for that.”
The risk was worth it, Branden and Misty contend, especially now that they’ve seen the reward. And that reward is more than just a red, white and blue oval for Ethan’s uniform.
“We saw him change from a bit of a timid boy in regard to speaking with people about the project to a young man who could talk to anyone — from a daily visitor to Ramsey House to the Ramsey House board of directors, to a Tennessee congressman,” Branden says. “He really grew in interpersonal skills and in self-confidence.”
“We enjoyed every minute of it and would not trade the time we had the opportunity to spend with him for anything,” Misty says. “Through the course of the project, we became closer as a family as we watched Ethan grow from a boy into a confident, responsible young man. As his parents, it was an invaluable experience for us.”
Thanks to Don Dare for the blog post idea.