LDS Youth Earns National Award for Eagle Scout Project
Contributed By By Stan Harrison, Church News contributor
WHITEHALL TOWNSHIP, Michigan
When Forrest Bernhardt began work on his Eagle Scout leadership service project, he never dreamed it would be nominated for a national award. He didn’t even know there was one.
In May, Forrest’s project—obtaining and installing a specially designed swing for people with disabilities—was chosen from among 57,976 Eagle Scout projects as one of the top four in the United States.
Forrest, 18, of Troop 1041 in the North Muskegon Ward, Grand Rapids Michigan Stake, was one of the four contenders for the 2013 Glenn A. and Melinda W. Adams National Eagle Scout Service Project of the Year Award. Forrest was named the Boy Scouts of America Central Region winner for his project.
“I felt honored to get it,” said Forrest, of Whitehall Township, Michigan. As Central Region winner, he will receive a $500 scholarship.
Obtaining and installing the swing required raising more than $23,000 and took two and a half years to complete. The swing, which can accommodate wheelchair users and others with impaired mobility, was shipped from Australia. The Liberty Swing is located in Goodrich Park in the city of Whitehall, Michigan, and is the first one in Michigan.
“I think [the project] really was an answer to prayers,” said Forrest’s mother, Justina Bernhardt. Before tackling such a challenging project, Forrest, along with his mother and father, Justina and Lance Bernhardt, decided to make it a matter of prayer. Justina Bernhardt said each of them prayed and received confirmation independently.
“At first, I didn’t realize it was going to be as big as it really was,” Forrest said of his project, which because of its complexity, ended up taking much longer than anticipated. His initial goal of completing the swing by the end of summer 2010 stretched into summer of 2012.
Forrest’s older brother, Zachary Bernhardt, served as inspiration for the project. Zach has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, and when the family went to the park, there was nothing there for him to do, Forrest said.
Forrest said he thought the swing would be something that would benefit not only his brother but many people with disabilities. Today, residents as well as visitors can sign out a key to use the swing from designated local businesses and City Hall.
As a result of the project, “I'm more aware of people that are in need … and giving more service to those in need,” Forrest said.
Forrest plans to serve a full-time mission and is considering studying either architecture or computer-aided design.
Forrest was chosen as the Boy Scouts of America Central Region winner from among 24 council award winners. The President Gerald R. Ford Field Service Council selected Forrest as its 2013 Outstanding Eagle Scout.
The Central Region comprises the states of Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Wisconsin, and parts of Indiana, Nebraska, South Dakota, and West Virginia.
According to the National Eagle Scout Association, local Boy Scout councils choose an Eagle service project winner each year, and from among council winners, each of the four regions selects a winner. A national winner is chosen from among the regional finalists.
The national award recognizes a Scout for an Eagle Scout leadership service project of an exceptional nature.
This year, the national award went to Elijah Trey LeCroix of Birmingham, Alabama, whose project was building a playground for the Rogersville, Alabama, community.