DOWNTOWN — One school was in desperate need of new backpack racks and shelves for its kindergarten class. Another wanted to refurbish storage bins and paint concrete trash cans to make the campus more attractive.
Alejandro Villero and Garrett Cheung delivered.
Sunday, surrounded by family, friends and fellow Boy Scouts, Villero and Cheung were rewarded, receiving the rank of Eagle Scout, a rare honor that the seniors at Santa Monica High School earned by completing a series of tasks that included community service projects at St. Anne’s and Lincoln Middle schools.
Boy Scout Troop 2, founded in Santa Monica more than 60 years ago, has a tradition of reaching out to local nonprofits and schools, lending a helping hand in exchange for valuable life experience that molds boys into men. Villero, 18, and Cheung, 17, led two groups of younger scouts as they went about measuring, sanding, hammering and painting over several days to complete the projects. And that’s on top of the 21 merit badges the two had to earn prior to being considered for the rank of Eagle.
“This really is a great way to sum up what I’ve done in scouting for the past seven years,” said Villero, who in his spare time likes to write fiction, play the piano and guitar, in addition to helping run the student store at Samohi. He hopes to study business or economics in college. “This is really an achievement. Being a scout provides you with a guideline for the rest of your life. Getting Eagle is a great jumping off point.”
Both young men see becoming an Eagle Scout through proud eyes.
“It is the highest honor and it comes with a lot of responsibility,” said Cheung, who is a member of the Samohi Orchestra, studies Chinese and is involved in a youth leadership program outside of scouts with an eye on studying engineering in college. “A lot is expected of Eagle Scouts. People expect you to act mature, know how to be prepared in any event or emergency situation. In could be just helping someone out or taking control when someone’s life is in danger.”
The scouts’ motto is “Be Prepared,” and those who watched the two Eagle Scouts complete their projects said they definitely were. Villero chose St. Anne’s, a private, Catholic school that serves mostly low-income families and relies heavily on the kindness of others, said Carol O’Day, marketing and development director for the school. The kindergarten class, situated in a modular structure lacking storage space, needed new shelves and racks for backpacks. The old shelves were situated too high for the children to place their books and toys, with some shelves beginning to sag.
“It was an ambitious project, but Alejandro came in to the classroom a number of times, photographed the space, took measurements and talked with the teacher to see how the room was used, how high things had to be and how they needed to be secured so they are safe for children,” O’Day said. “Alejandro did a great job and really made the classroom kid-friendly.
“He organized his troop of helpers, fed them and arranged a painting day at his own home,” she added. “He followed up with us. He was very thorough.”
O’Day wants Villero to come back to the campus and speak with some of the older kids at the K-8 school to get them excited about the “big boy in the uniform and how fun that is,” she said.
Over at Lincoln, Assistant Principal Carl Hobkirk, whose son Kyle earned the rank of Eagle Scout two years ago, worked with Cheung to refurbish six wooden boxes used to store earthquake preparedness materials as well as security and custodial supplies. The boxes were showing their age, having been at the campus for 10 years.
“Now they’ll probably be good for another decade,” Hobkirk said, giving credit to Cheung’s hard work, which included sanding and replacing boards and fittings, painting and upgrading hinges. “Garrett is a terrific kid. The Cheungs are a great family.”
In addition to the bins, Cheung and his group of younger scouts painted concrete trash cans donated by City Hall. Cheung used paint that matched the school’s colors to create a more aesthetically appealing campus.
“They were just gray and looked really awful,” Hobkirk said. “They look much better now.”
Hobkirk believes the Boy Scouts are still an important organization and in particular Troop 2, which draws from families from Santa Monica, Brentwood and West Los Angeles. Despite the national arm of the Boy Scouts’ stance on gays and lesbians serving in the troop, Hobkirk said Troop 2 does not discriminate, which is why it is so diverse. Openly gay families participate with their children and women serve as assistant scout masters.
“I think it is good for the kids to see that and learn tolerance in addition to the survival skills and other valuable lessons that Boy Scouts provides,” Hobkirk said. “My son matured tremendously and has become more responsible. Most boys, myself included, when they are 11,12,13 just want to have fun, have a blast and not pay much attention to what is going on around them. Then you see these older scouts in high school and learn about all the fun they are having and it looks attractive as a kid. You start thinking about all the great trips, backpacking through the Grand Tetons, canoeing around Catalina or hiking in Yosemite.
“Kids just thrive on it and then there comes the whole community service portion, with older scouts helping the younger ones along, singing at local senior centers, there are so many elements that are very positive.”
Intern Miriam Finder contributed to this report.