Helping others be prepared: Eagle Scouts project supplies 200 emergency kits

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By their nature, Boy Scouts are mensches. “The scout slogan is, ‘Do a good turn daily,'” says Justin Meier, a 17-year-old Eagle Scout from Alamo.

But isn’t “a good turn” just another way of saying “a mitzvah”?

In that light, any Boy Scout who wants to earn the top rank of Eagle Scout must perform a really big mitzvah — a major project that benefits the community. Such a project is never easy, which is perhaps why only 5 percent of Boy Scouts become Eagle Scouts.

For Meier’s Eagle project, he did just about all the legwork involved in collecting disaster-kit items and then putting together 200 emergency preparedness kits for the residents and staff at the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville. He and about 20 of his fellow scouts from Troop 236 in Danville assembled and distributed the kits about two months ago.

“We told him the amount of residents he’d have to prepare kits for, and he exceeded it by preparing kits for the staff as well,” says RCJL Program Director Carol Goldman.

The RCJL offers independent assisted living, Alzheimer’s and memory-loss care, and skilled nursing. Meier, who isn’t Jewish, became familiar with the facility because of his Aunt Sandy.

That would be Sandy Belden, the best friend and business partner of Meier’s mother, and also a member of the board of directors at the RCJL.

“I’ve been around Justin every day of his life, and since his mom and I are business partners, I’m very close with the whole family,” Belden says. “Justin has been coming to Reutlinger since he was 8 years old. He would visit my parents many times, and they were like grandparents to him.”

After Belden’s parents died, a then- 16-year-old Meier decided he wanted his Eagle project to honor them. After discussing his ideas with the RCJL’s administrators, he decided on the kits. Each kit is a lightweight backpack (with the Reutlinger logo) containing emergency items such as flashlights with batteries, first-aid supplies, whistles and small blankets.

“It gives them a sense of security,” Goldman says of the kits. “He accomplished what he set out to do, and even went beyond what I thought he was going to do, so that was great.”

Obtaining the supplies for the kits was no easy feat, and things got off to a rocky start.

“He sent out over 60 letters for donations,” Belden says. “He didn’t really get anything back, except one check to buy supplies.”

But Meier persevered, and started making phone calls for donations. “He ended up with 38 individuals and businesses donating money ranging from $18 to $250 for purchasing supplies,” Belden says.

Upon presenting the kits to the facility, Meier did a safety and disaster preparedness demonstration for approximately 50 residents. Afterward, he and his fellow scouts served ice cream and root beer floats to the residents.

Working so closely with staff and residents at the RCJL left a deep impression on Meier, an evangelical Christian.

“My aunt is Jewish and her parents were both Jewish, so I wanted

to do something for everything they’ve done for me,” he says. “There’s a saying from the Bible: ‘Those that bless the Jews will be blessed.’ That had a major impact on what I decided to do in life, and helping out the RCJL was definitely a good thing.”

Just after completing his project, Meier visited Israel, a trip that truly awed him, especially his visits to Masada and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

“I really liked Masada,” he says. “I think it should be considered one of the wonders of the world. It was amazing.”

Art Scharlach, 89, the president of the Reutlinger residents’ council, took a particular interest in Meier’s project. Scharlach was a former scoutmaster, a leader of an Explorer Post (a Boy Scouts subsidiary) and a recipient of the Silver Beaver Award, one of scouting’s highest honors for an adult leader.

“Justin and I really bonded, very much so,” says Scharlach, , who has lived at the Danville facility for 51⁄2 years. “He took things into hand, and really ran the program. He was very good, I regard him highly.”

Meier says being able to get guidance from Scharlach was something he cherished.

“Art had a big impact on me,” Meier says. “The Silver Beaver is the third-highest award for adult scouting. He helped in showing the importance of my Eagle project … [to] the residents at RCJL.”

Meier says he has taken away many special memories from his project at the RCJL, such as singing Chanukah songs and playing dreidel with kids who came to visit an elderly relative.

“It’s nice to help someone,” he said, “knowing that one day you’ll need assistance, too.