“Have I Done Any Good?” New Era, Feb. 1998, 20
Have I done any good in the world today?
Have I helped anyone in need?
Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad?
If not, I have failed indeed.
(Hymns, no. 223)
A young man can make a difference in the world today, and one way to do it is with his Eagle Scout project. Consider the following activities:
At the top of a hill, the highway traffic on I-65 rushes right by a grove of trees. Few people even notice the cluster of 30 to 40 headstones nestled in the triangle between the main road and an off-ramp leading toward Vinemont and some other small towns. But the young men of the Cullman Ward, Huntsville Alabama Stake, pay attention to the spot whenever they go by. It’s the site of the Wilhite Cemetery, and without their efforts, including four Eagle Scout projects over the years, the graves of these settlers from the 1820s, and of others in additional cemeteries nearby, could quietly disappear.
It isn’t your typical activity at the Byrd Springs Ward cultural hall. Two hundred young men and women from all over the Huntsville Alabama Stake have gathered here on a Saturday afternoon, but they’re not attending a dance or a youth conference, not playing sports or putting on road shows. They’re tying quilts, more than two dozen of them. The quilts will be donated to a center for children whose parents are in jail or otherwise absent. The massive quilting bee is Tyler Williams’ Eagle Scout project.
Up north, just over the state line in Tullahoma, Tennessee, Branden Bates looks at his neighbor’s house across the street. It brings a smile to his face. And whenever he walks across the street to say hello to his neighbors, he brings a smile to theirs. Not long ago, their house and garage were badly in need of painting and repairs, but they are elderly and have health and sight problems. They couldn’t do the work themselves and couldn’t afford to hire it out. As part of a community beautification activity, Branden and other young men helping him with his Eagle Scout project came to their rescue.
The young men in these three examples, and other Aaronic Priesthood holders like them, probably don’t think of themselves as making a great difference. They may simply feel they’re working to fulfill requirements for their Eagle Scout award. But most of them seem to have one thing in common—they saw something that needed to be done, and they did it. Along the way they organized others to help, gave a worthwhile effort, and made a lasting memory for themselves and those around them. That kind of effort does indeed make a difference.
An Eagle Scout project should demonstrate leadership abilities, involve other Scouts, and should have enduring significance, according to K. Hart Bullock, director of LDS Scouting Relationships.
“Your project ought to be something you would be proud to tell your children about, or even one day show to your children,” he says. “It doesn’t necessarily have to last through many years, but it, or the memory of it, should be something of lasting effect on people or the community.”
Brother Bullock also suggests that you might find ideas for projects by talking with your Aaronic Priesthood leaders or by visiting with city officials or government agencies responsible for lands, forests, public health, or safety. “The best thing,” he counsels, “is simply to be aware of your surroundings, so you can see what needs to be done in the community or for the Church.” In other words, adapt to local conditions and people. Ask yourself, “What can I give in service to them?”
Tyler got his idea of holding a massive quilting bee by talking with the stake Young Women presidency. “They came to me, actually,” he explains. “Of course, my mother is in the presidency, and she knew I was looking for a project!” But he quickly realized that providing the quilts could do what he hoped to do—he could organize a lot of people (including some non-LDS friends he had helped with their projects), he could help the community, and he could let some lonely children know they were loved.
He learned quickly that other things were required, too. “You can’t just crash it through,” he says. “You’ve got to have a plan. You have to be organized. You have to delegate; you’ve got to have it mapped out mentally and be assertive, so people know what to do.” With donated yarn and fabric, fliers and announcements throughout the stake, and half a dozen borrowed quilting frames, the project, from start to finish, was completed in about one month. “And that,” he says, “was rushing it.” His advice to others: “Get it done before you’re about to turn 18.”
In Tullahoma, Branden talks with two fellow Eagle Scouts, Joseph Jackson and James Ferguson. They’re close friends who all got their Eagles within months of each other. Joseph built picnic tables for a senior citizen center. With proper approval, he upgraded speed bumps in the road outside the center and installed and painted concrete parking barriers to help with traffic flow. But the highlight, he says, was meeting with those who use the center and hearing them say thanks for what he’d done. “Now I drive by and see them seated at the tables,” Joseph says. “I know the people, and I see how I helped them. I know it’s the kind of thing I’d like somebody to do for me.”
James organized a dozen Scouts who worked with him to clean out underbrush, build a series of natural stair steps, and add half a mile to a hiking path in a remote area of Franklin State Forest outside Sewanee. They properly identified the trail with new blazing marks and corrected or eliminated old ones. “We hiked two hours in and two hours out, carrying a lot of gear both ways,” he says. It took two full days of work, not counting all the phone calls coordinating crews, material, and equipment. “But as we worked together, along with getting the job done, we joked and laughed and had a good time,” he says.
Which ties in with what Branden says, summing up the experience of all three young men. “You learn to love those you serve with,” he says, “as well as those you serve.”
Back in Cullman, the young men talk about the value of building a tradition. “We’ve cleaned a lot of the cemeteries up in the hills here,” says Amel Drake, 13. “It started with one Eagle project, and that led to another and another and another.” For example, five miles away in Falkville, members of this same Troop/Team 335 earlier cleaned up a cemetery of about 150 graves, including the resting places of both slaves and prominent citizens. These Scouts have learned to safely operate weed whackers, to properly glue broken headstones together, and to keep a journal of names and locations for people who wish to visit graves or do family history research.
“We don’t just do cemeteries; we do other Eagle projects too,” says Enoch Jones, 15. “And we do lots of community service, to benefit others and ourselves.” He pauses, then adds, “Traditions are a part of our heritage. Building a tradition of service helps us to remember who we are and where we come from. Keeping up the cemeteries is just a part of that.”
Planning. Work. People. Traditions. Service. Those are all things that make a difference. And Eagle Scout projects—the best of them—make a difference by including each one.
Editor’s note: Since this story was written, Branden Bates has become a full-time missionary serving in the Guatemala Quetzaltenango Mission, and Tyler Williams has received his call to the Romania Bucharest Mission.