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Heat and humidity, poison ivy and biting bugs did not deter Boy Scouts as they worked Thursday to improve public properties in McDowell County and neighboring Mercer County.
Boy Scouts from across the country are now attending the National Boy Scout Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Fayette County. However, instead of staying at the camp, each of the 40,000 Scouts is contributing a day of community service to southern West Virginia.
Scout troops sent by bus to different counties quickly found themselves performing a variety of tasks. In Vivian off U.S. Route 52, the old Bushnell Field was scheduled for a Scout makeover. Shortly after arriving, they were visibly making the old sports facility a better place.
“We’re cleaning up the ballfield,” said Scout Master Chuck Jakab. He didn’t shake hands because he had been working near poison ivy. Scouts working nearby were pouring and raking sand to create a new volleyball court. “I think they may be making this a multi-purpose field.”
Each Scout troop working in the southern counties gets an educational session designed to teach them more about the places they are visiting. Jakab’s group from Mississippi learned about McDowell County’s history during the bus ride from Beckley. In the background of the ballfield stood the remains of an old coal company store that was later converted into a school.
The troops had their assigned tasks, but they were ready to take on other jobs.
“If there is anything else, we can do that, too,” Jakab said.
Scout Michael Rust, 16, took a quick break from raking sand to answer questions. West Virginia was really different from Mississippi, he said.
“When I was in Mississippi, I thought we had really tall trees, but that was until we got here,” he said. He pointed out the future volleyball field. “It’s going to be 60 feet by 30 feet. There are several projects we’re doing.”
Being able to perform community service gives Scouts a chance to see how the actions of one person, and contributing to the actions of a group, make a difference.
“You think one person can’t do something, but one person thought of this,” Rust said. “One person had the idea and everyone is making it work.”
At the nearby pressbox, some Venture Scouts were cleaning up the old structure.
“We’re going to try and restore this baseball field,” said Venture Scout Korbin Sieverts of Mississippi. “It’s more than a lot of work.” However, he did find an old baseball helmet and a catcher’s vest. He had to beat them against the ground to dislodge a spider.
“We’re scraping the old paint off and repainting, and we’re getting all the garbage out,” said Venture Scout Hayden Zeigler.
Some of the volunteers were wearing conical rice hats more commonly seen in Southeast Asia. Peter Nguyen, 27, was with a Venture crew from the University of Southern Mississippi. He was also a member of the Vietnam Student Organization. Besides helping with Scout projects, his organization also worked to raise funding for cancer awareness and sporting events.
Miles away in Mercer County, work was also underway at Lotito Park in Bluefield. Scout troops were clearing away trash, painting trash bins around the park’s picnic shelter, restoring a volleyball court and helping other volunteers resurface the park’s basketball courts.
“We have at least seven different Scout troops that are here in the park today,” said Scout Master Paul Loxley from Kentucky. He estimated as many as 7,000 Scouts were working Thursday across the region.
Like other Scout troops, the troops arriving at Lotito Park learned they had to be flexible. Loxley’s troop had been scheduled to seal the basketball courts, but they soon learned that Service Corps volunteers from North Carolina were doing it. Loxley assigned some Scouts without an assignment to help them.
Linwood Skinner of the Northwest Piedmont Service Corps out of Winston-Salem, N.C., said his organization was partnering on projects with the Boy Scouts during the jamboree. The Service Corps works with people 18 to 30 years old.
“We are a work training program,” Skinner said. “We work on developing work skills, work ethic, post-secondary education and permanent employment. That is our biggest goal. The outcome is to become employed.”
Two Scouts working nearby were painting a trash bin made shabby by the weather. It was only one of the tasks they had performed.
“We picked up trash and we helped with digging up the sand,” said Scout Warren Martin, 15, of Marion, Ky. He checked his work. “Do we have to do the inside of it?”
“No,” fellow Scout Cameron Jones, 13, of Henderson, Ohio said. It was the first time both Scouts had been in West Virginia. Jones was already making his plans to visit again.
“Oh, yeah. I’m going to the next one, the World (Jamboree) in 2015,” he announced as he painted.