A heart for service: Scout completes incredible international Eagle project

Christian Norris is interviewed at one of the heart-shaped bins. (All photos courtesy of Keith Jones)

It takes someone with a big heart to complete an Eagle project that helps kids with cancer get potentially lifesaving treatment.

In the case of Christian Norris, it takes someone with 20 big hearts.

For his Eagle Scout service project, the 17-year-old from Troop 312 of Irmo, S.C. (Indian Waters Council), led an effort to install 20 giant, heart-shaped bins that allow residents to recycle plastic bottle caps. 

The project gets even more complex (and impressive) when you realize that Christian completed his project in Torreón, a city of 750,000 people in northeastern Mexico.

Christian is half-Mexican; his mom is from Torreón. In researching his family’s history, he learned that Torreón has an unusually high concentration of cancer.

“I felt like I had to do something significant with my Eagle project for the sake of others,” he says.

Bryan on Scouting talked with Christian to learn how the project worked.

Going green, making green

While all recycling centers accept plastic bottles that once contained water, soda or a sports drink, many will throw away the plastic caps that once sealed those bottles.

That’s because the bottle and cap are made out of plastics with different densities.

“We don’t recycle them properly here in the United States, like some of the rest of the world has already learned to do,” Christian says.

In cities like Torreón, recycling companies pay cash for plastic bottle caps, meaning that if someone could collect enough of them, they could earn some serious money.

Christian and his Eagle project crew, which included local troops from Scouts de México.

Looking for the helpers

For his project, Christian saw an opportunity to expand a bottle-cap collection program operated by Casa Feliz, an agency that provides treatments for child cancer patients and housing and meals for their families. 

It’s similar to the Ronald McDonald House program in the United States — “but without the deep pockets,” Christian says.

Casa Feliz already had 15 collection bins throughout the city of Torreón. Christian wanted to raise enough money to add five more.

The program works like this: Residents and passers-by place their bottle caps in the conspicuous metal collection bins placed throughout the city. 

Every six days or so, Casa Feliz empties the hearts, which are often so full that people have placed bags of bottle caps beside them. 

The bottle caps are transported back to a central warehouse and then loaded into a large truck to be transported to the recycling company. 

The recycling company processes the bottle caps and cuts a check to Casa Feliz, which uses the funds for its family-focused programs.

“Basically, it’s a recycling project that will indefinitely sustain cancer treatments for kids,” Christian says.

Christian and some of his volunteers at Estadio Corona, the Santos Laguna soccer stadium where one of the bins was installed.

Setting a goal — and surpassing it

To meet his goal of raising enough funds for five collection bins, Christian led an all-out fundraising blitz.

First, he sold his used school uniforms. Then, in his South Carolina community, Christian organized and ran a community car wash and planned an event at a church selling prepackaged meals.

While that was happening in South Carolina, Christian started a parallel effort in Torreón. He connected with a local Scouts de México troop and planned a service project where Scouts went through their communities collecting bottle caps. 

Christian secured the donation of 10,000 printed recyclable collection bags (worth about $6,500), ensuring that each new heart would get a nice head start.

When the final tally was in, Christian wasn’t just able to install five collection bins. He had raised enough money to manufacture and install 20. 

Christian attended ribbon-cutting ceremonies for each of the bins, including one placed at Estadio Corona, the soccer stadium that’s home to Santos Laguna, a club that competes in Liga MX, Mexico’s top soccer division.

Over the course of a few months, Christian and his volunteers more than doubled Casa Feliz’s bottle-cap-collecting power. 

When all those bottle caps are added up — about three tons of them each week in the new bins alone — the money raised will be enough to support an additional 16 or 17 kids every week.

“We started with a goal of five hearts and ended with 20,” Christian says. “There were 81 volunteers who put in at least 1,885 service hours between 15 events. The most rewarding part of my project was learning how much people will unify to support a good cause, when they understand what they are supporting.”

A close-up of the message on each bin.

Moving forward, looking back

After high school, Christian hopes to go to Yale University. He says he’ll bring with him a confidence he wouldn’t have gotten without Scouting.

“Scouting is a great place for people to get to enjoy new experiences and make some great friends,” he says. “It helps with almost everything you can do.”

Jack Norris, Christian’s dad and the vice president of membership for the Indian Waters Council (among a half-dozen other volunteer roles), says that watching his son complete this project was one of his proudest moments as a father and a volunteer.

“Scouts always find a heart for serving others, cheerfully, with lots of smiles and lots of love,” he says. “Christian dreamed of creating an impact that will make a difference in the lives of a community he dearly loves. In doing so, he chose not to limit himself or the impact he wanted to create. 

“He brought multiple communities to work together, in two languages and in two countries, toward a common and meaningful goal. It was a genuinely moving experience.”

Christian’s project is generating truckloads of plastic bottle caps each week.

Thanks to Jack Allen Norris, a volunteer with the Indian Waters Council, for the blog post idea.

About Bryan Wendell 3281 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.