The challenge facing 17-year-old Boy Scout Robert Decker: Finding a service project that benefitted his Egg Harbor Township, N.J. community.
To earn the Eagle Rank that he’s been working for years to attain, Decker decided that he wanted to make a difference in the lives of veterans struggling with homelessness.
He Tells Devin Loring of the Press of Atlantic City that he was inspired in this mission because his grandfather and several great uncles served in World War II, and some of his uncles experienced homelessness after they returned from war.
Decker contacted Jaime Kazmarck, a social worker at the Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Northfield, N.J., to inquire about how he could help homeless soldiers. Kazmarck is a coordinator with HUD-VASH (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing), a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the VA to help homeless veterans transition off the streets. The program provides vouchers for rent payments to veterans and supports them with case management and counseling.
Kazmarck told Decker that many of the vets who finally get a key to their own apartment have few possessions to make it feel like home.
So Decker organized a campaign encouraging people to donate practical items to outfit these vets’ apartments, including towels, toothpaste and cleaning supplies.
Decker and other members of his Boy Scout troop stood outside the Somers Point supermarket ShopRite, distributing fliers about the project and talking to people about it. Over two nights, they collected more than $1,500 worth of supplies and donations. According to Loring, Decker collected enough to fill 20 laundry baskets and 10 boxes and was able to purchase 25 $10 Wal-Mart gift cards with money donated for the vets.
“We’re really grateful for Mr. Decker and the troop for getting this together,” Kazmarck tells Loring. “They did a great job. It gives them [veterans] a wonderful start in a new apartment or home.”
Decker has submitted documentation of all his work to the Eagle Scout board of review, who will soon tell him whether he has qualified. We think it’s a safe bet that this generous and hard-working scout will be rewarded with a new rank.