When Scouts put their hearts and minds into getting something done, no distance is too great — not even 1,100 miles.
For proof, look no further than twin brothers Matthew and Andrew Schramkowski of Troop 8 in Brentwood, Tenn., part of the Middle Tennessee Council.
Last year, the Schramkowski family traveled 16 hours along Interstate 40 so that Matthew and Andrew could complete Eagle Scout service projects in Santa Rosa, N.M.
Matthew planned, designed and led the installation of new walls inside an aging community center. Andrew did the same with the community center’s flooring.
But why travel four states away to complete Eagle projects instead of finding something closer to home?
There are two answers, the brothers say. First, they live in Williamson County, which is the wealthiest in Tennessee. Troop 8 is large, and its Scouts complete several outstanding Eagle projects in and around Brentwood each year. With those factors in mind, they felt they could do more good somewhere else.
And second, the brothers wanted to find projects that had personal significance to them. (Advice we’ve shared before.)
“It seems like the people [in Santa Rosa] needed it more than the people in Brentwood,” Andrew says. “We know the people in the area, too, because we have a ranch there. It was kind of like doing a project at our home away from home.”
The story gets even more interesting from there. Bryan on Scouting talked with Matthew, Andrew and their dad to learn more about how they came up with the project ideas, planned projects while living two time zones away and found enough volunteers to get it done.
Quick reminder from the Guide to Advancement
Before we continue, you might be wondering whether the BSA allows Scouts to complete projects outside of their city, local council or state. The answer is yes!
Eagle Scout requirement 5 says that a Life Scout must complete “a service project helpful to any religious institution, any school or your community.”
Section 220.127.116.11 of the Guide to Advancement explains that “your community” can be interpreted as the “community of the world.”
Here’s the full explanation from the Guide:
“Any religious institution” and “any school” are self- explanatory. But what does “your community” mean? In today’s world of instant communications and speedy travel, we are affected more and more by what goes on all over the world. Prices for goods and services, investment values, our very safety, and how we feel about those less fortunate in other countries, all are involved. Thus, if Scouts want to take their oath “to help other people” more expansively and put their projects to work for the “community of the world,” they are allowed to do so. A council may emphasize more local efforts but should not deny worthy projects of a wider scope.
While visiting Philmont one year, Paul Schramkowski stumbled upon a ranch that was for sale.
“Our family purchased this ranch, and we all fell in love with the area,” Paul says.
On one visit, the Schramkowskis started talking to some local residents who shared their hope that some day the community could raise enough money to install a real floor and walls at its community center.
The ah-ha moment had arrived.
“We all looked at each other and asked if they knew what an Eagle project was,” Paul says. “They didn’t, so we explained it. They were blown away.”
Big construction projects are completed in stages so the workers don’t get in each other’s way.
Matthew and Andrew planned their projects with that concept in mind. Andrew and his helpers (including Matthew) would install the floor first. After that was complete, Matthew and his helpers (including Andrew) would work on the walls.
With that decided, their focus turned to recruiting volunteers. Scouts must lead at least two people (not including themselves) when working on an Eagle project.
Knowing they weren’t likely to persuade any members of their home troop to travel 1,100 miles to volunteer, Matthew and Andrew looked for the closest troop to the project site. They found one about two hours away in Albuquerque.
As luck would have it, the troop was planning a weekend trip to the Blue Hole, a swimming and scuba spot in Santa Rosa.
“We knew they had to camp somewhere, and we were on the way to their destination, so we offered to have them camp by the community center to help with the Eagle projects,” Paul says. “In exchange, I would teach merit badges — I’m a counselor for Cooking, Animal Science and the Citizenship badges.”
It was all planned perfectly. Then COVID happened.
Planning begins, again
With the pandemic worsening as summer 2020 approached, the troop from Albuquerque canceled its plans to visit the Blue Hole. That meant they had to back out of their commitment to volunteer, too.
“We had three days scheduled for each of the two projects and no real volunteers,” Paul says.
So Matthew and Andrew contacted the local newspaper to share their story, and their luck turned. After reading the story, youth and adult volunteers — most of them unaffiliated with Scouting — offered to help. Three of the adults who showed up were employed as carpenters, making their presence even more valuable.
Community members brought more than themselves and their talents. Some also brought food. Matthew and Andrew had planned to buy lunch for their volunteers each day, but instead some local families treated everyone to New Mexican cuisine.
“They were very excited and appreciative,” Andrew says. “That saved us time that we could better spend finishing the project.”
As for the materials, those came from multiple sources. Andrew bought the flooring from Lumber Liquidators in Albuquerque. Matthew purchased the wall materials from a store in Nashville, Tenn., loaded it onto a trailer and hauled it west.
“It was a heavy load, but we made it,” Paul says.
Both young men earned money for their projects by completing fundraisers back home in Williamson County.
What Matthew learned
While leading his wall-restoration project, Matthew was careful to follow that old adage to “measure twice, cut once.”
Most of his supplies were hauled in from Nashville, meaning mistakes would be costly.
“Quality matters. If you don’t do a good job on the work, it doesn’t look good and you must take it down and do it again, which is more work,” Matthew says. “The closest store to correct a mistake was 90 minutes away, round trip. If we messed up, we risked not finishing.”
In addition to that lesson, Matthew learned that it’s difficult to lead people you’ve only just met. In his home troop, Matthew knows what leadership strategies might work with each of his fellow Scouts. Not so in New Mexico.
“To lead people that you know and go to school with is one thing,” he says, “but you get so much more out of it when leading people you do not know.”
What Andrew learned
To Andrew, the service project is required for Eagle because it challenges Scouts to demonstrate leadership.
“It shows how we can lead by example,” he says.
And so, yes, Andrew helped clean the floor, add a waterproof barrier and install the wood planks. But just as importantly, he also guided others through those same tasks.
Speaking of guiding others, Andrew’s biggest hiccup was trying to guide a delivery driver to the project site.
“This location isn’t really on a map,” Andrew says. “So the driver of the truck got lost with the flooring material and couldn’t find us. We had to drive to another city to get them.”
Despite that challenge, Andrew says he proved to himself and others that “you can do your project anywhere if you plan and prepare for it.”
What Paul learned
Paul says watching his sons complete their Eagle projects was the final remarkable stop on a life-changing journey.
He’s been there from the start of their time in Scouting as members of Cub Scout Pack 419. And he’s been there for every meeting, outing and trek ever since.
“It is our time to have fun and to learn together,” Paul says.
About 150 miles north of Santa Rosa is Philmont Scout Ranch. And that’s where Paul says he noticed the biggest change of all in his sons.
“On Philmont treks, people — including myself — really learn a lot about themselves and each other,” he says. “We are family, and I’m the dad and they are my kids, but on the trail, we’re all equals.”
During their Eagle projects, Paul played the role of advisor. His personal motto for this role pretty much sums up what all Scouting parents strive to do: “I can help you do your job. I will not do your job for you.”