A typical person might’ve reacted to Tommy Midtlyng’s idea — to build an outdoor dining structure at a Colombian orphanage — with a list of reasons why it would never work.
Too far. Too expensive. Too complicated.
Good thing Scouts like Tommy aren’t typical people.
For his Eagle Scout service project, the 16-year-old from Troop 121 of Granite Bay, Calif. (Golden Empire Council), planned, developed and gave leadership to the construction of a shaded outdoor dining structure at an orphanage in the South American nation of Colombia.
That’s not to say Tommy never encountered doubts — mostly from within. He was just determined to overcome them.
“At times I questioned if my project would come together, and I focused on potential problems that could arise with an international project,” he says. “But in the end, I chose to focus on all the good that could come out of this project. I told myself to aim high, and if too many issues arose, I could change course later or revise the project. But to my surprise, it wasn’t too complicated, and we had no major setbacks. I’m so glad I took the leap of faith.”
How it started
Tommy has extended family that lives in Colombia, and while visiting relatives he has witnessed the hardships that young people face in many areas of that country.
“I’ve seen many children living on the streets, without parents, displaced by violence, economic hardships and social issues,” he says. “I found an organization that is trying to change that, so I joined forces with them.”
His project beneficiary was the Emiliani Project, based in the city of Medellin. The nonprofit group rescues local children and provides food, housing, education and love.
“They were very responsive and appreciative of any help that we could offer,” Tommy says. “I saw a look of desperation in the eyes of homeless children there, and I felt a responsibility to help.”
In conversations with leaders at the Emiliani Project, Tommy decided to build an outdoor dining structure and picnic tables and chairs so the children could eat meals outside.
Tommy secured $2,000 in tool donations from the Home Depot and calculated that he’d need to raise another $3,500 (on the beneficiary’s behalf) for the project.
Raising the funds
In the end, Tommy raised almost $14,000. As per Eagle project fundraising rules, he made sure that the beneficiary retained the leftover funds, which the charity plans to use to construct a dormitory.
To raise that money, Tommy employed a multipronged approach.
First, he held an outdoor pancake breakfast on New Year’s Day. Tommy and his helpers served up pancakes, bagels, coffee and hot cocoa to members of the local community.
After that, Tommy spent pretty much every weekend outside a local hardware store with a table of coffee and doughnuts donated by the local Starbucks and Dunkin’ restaurants. Wearing his full field uniform (unofficially known as a “Class A”), Tommy asked exiting shoppers whether they wanted some free refreshments.
“Most of them would say yes, and as they were selecting their doughnut or serving their own coffee, I would show them my project poster and ask them if they’d like to support my Eagle Scout project,” Tommy says. “Their ears would perk up, and I’d describe the outdoor dining area I was planning to build for an orphanage that will house around 160 children, with a waiting list of children hoping to get in.”
This usually worked, and Tommy was inspired to see the generosity of strangers in his community.
In addition to those two methods, Tommy set up a GoFundMe site, sent emails, made personal phone calls, wrote letters and visited local businesses in person. Everything helped.
What went wrong
But not everything was smooth sailing. Tommy had to coordinate the purchase of the building materials through a local contact in Colombia — a time-consuming step that threatened to delay the schedule.
“We were nervous about arriving in Colombia before our materials arrived,” Tommy says. “Fortunately, it all worked out.”
Tommy’s project team included his uncle Matt Jauregui; his cousin Isaac Jauregui; his longtime Scouting friend Brenden Hackett; his brother, John Midtlyng; and his father, Brian Midtlyng. They also had two local helpers from Medellin.
Tommy calculated that each team member averaged about 81 hours of work.
In addition to building the dining structure, Tommy’s crew was asked to paint the exteriors of a few classrooms, if time allowed.
“We were able to paint two classrooms one day, but that night, we experienced a torrential downpour,” Tommy says. “Not only did this wash most of the paint off the classrooms, but it washed it onto the concrete pads surrounding the classrooms. We had a huge mess to clean up afterwards and classrooms that needed to be repainted.”
From this, Tommy says he learned to simply do his best, be flexible, and when things go wrong, “laugh about it and start over.”
What went right
Beyond that, things went pretty smoothly. Both the orphanage and the children living there were delighted with the results.
Along the way, Tommy made sure to keep his donors updated about the progress.
“They were excited to help these children, supportive of my endeavors, happy to see exactly where and how their donation would be used, and very inquisitive about the situation on the ground,” Tommy says. “I wanted them to see the finished product, know that their donations were spent wisely and see some of the faces of the children whose lives have been forever improved due to their generosity.”
In addition to inspiring those who contributed, Tommy wants to show his fellow Scouts what can happen when you “think big” and “choose the road less traveled” when planning an Eagle project.
Tommy’s top tips
In fact, thinking big is one of five tips Tommy gives to others as they embark on the Eagle project journey.
- Start planning early. “Don’t wait until you’re almost 18 years old as the process takes a lot of time and planning,” Tommy says. “Allow time to write the proposal and sufficient time for fundraising. Keep detailed, organized notes about all time spent on the project.”
- Dream big. “What do you really want to accomplish through your project?” Tommy asks. “Don’t try to just get it done. Enjoy the process and make it memorable.”
- Do your best. “Not all parts of the project will come together perfectly,” Tommy says. “There will be setbacks, delays and possibly last-minute changes. Just focus on doing your best and staying flexible.”
- Don’t be afraid to ask. “I was very nervous about fundraising. I didn’t want to ask anyone for money,” Tommy admits. “But once people heard about my project, they energetically wanted to be a part of it.”
- Just do it. “You will uncover so much through this process. You will be supported by your fellow Scouts, Scout leaders, and members of the community. Although it is a long and sometimes tiring road, I encourage all Scouts to stay the course and complete their project.”