In October, Nethra Srinivasan, a Health Care Explorer, received a 2020 Community Heroes Award from Assemblymember Kansen Chu.

If you’ve watched the national nightly news during the pandemic, you’re familiar with the formula.

They give you 29 minutes of stories about all the problems in the world, followed by a 60-second dose of positivity. (Like this CBS Evening News piece about an aspiring Eagle Scout or this NBC Nightly News story about a Scout bugler’s tribute to veterans.)

Today, let’s flip the script: all good news, all the time. Here are five stories of young people stepping up to help their communities.

California: Rallying a community to make face shields, face coverings

With apologies to Captains Marvel and America, Nethra Srinivasan prefers a different kind of superhero.

The 15-year-old is a Health Care Explorer in the BSA’s Silicon Valley Monterey Bay Council, which means she gets hands-on experience that will prepare her for a future career.

Through the BSA’s Exploring program, Nethra sees how hard doctors and nurses work under normal circumstances. In these anything-but-normal times of the pandemic, she’s also seen these health care heroes become health care superheroes.

While she can’t suit up and help them inside hospitals — at least not yet — Nethra is doing what she can. After reading about shortages of the personal protective equipment necessary to keep doctors, nurses and others safe from the virus, Nethra stepped up.

”I feel that today’s youth have an obligation, especially during a crisis, to support our nation and our superheroes — the health care professionals providing the best care to the people,” she says. “It’s the least we can do while staying at home.”

In May, Nethra launched the “Make-A-Mask Challenge,” encouraging Scouts and Explorers in her council to make face shields, mask extenders and face coverings for health care workers and others in her community.

She figured that if each family made five pieces of PPE — and shared their effort on social media — word would spread and she’d reach her goal of 1,000 pieces.

In just a month, she nearly quintupled that total. While maintaining social distancing, Nethra delivered 4,772 pieces of PPE to seven locations across Santa Clara County.

”We are all in this together, so no matter your age or background, you can always step up to help your community,” she says. “Explorers are encouraged to give back and improve the world around them. Through this program, I knew that helping others through health care was something that I wanted to do.”

Clarkston United Methodist Church let the troop use one of its outbuildings to store the cans and bottles.
Clarkston United Methodist Church let the troop use one of its outbuildings to store the cans and bottles collected from residents.

Michigan: Collecting bottles and cans for cash

Michigan is one of 10 states that give residents cash for returning bottles and cans. The state offers a dime for each eligible item returned as part of a program aimed at reducing littering and increasing recycling.

All that was put on hold during the pandemic when the state determined deposit centers were not essential businesses. To slow the spread of the virus, bottle and can collection stopped for 11 weeks.

Before long, garages and basements began to fill with bags of redeemables. That is, until the Scouts stepped in.

Troop 189 of Clarkston, Mich. (Michigan Crossroads Council), invited members of their community to donate those bottles and cans. The Scouts promised to redeem the items once centers reopened and donate the proceeds to local charities.

A Scout is trustworthy, and so Troop 189 did just that. They collected exactly 27,630 bottles and cans. At 10 cents apiece, that’s $2,763.

Troop 189 split that money evenly across a trio of charities: Independence Township Senior Center’s Meals on Wheels program; Clarkston Blessings in a Backpack, which helps kids overcome food insecurity; and the food pantry at Clarkston United Methodist Church.

“Scout Troop 189 is proud to be a member of the Clarkston community, grateful to those who donated their returnables to our service project, and thankful for this opportunity to help others during these trying times,” Assistant Scoutmaster Dennis Weaver told The Clarkston News.

Missouri: Inventing a hands-free hand-washing station

Cayden Sinquefield Dodds, a Star Scout from Troop 6 of Columbia, Mo. (Great Rivers Council), and his grandmother, Dr. Jeanne Sinquefield, a retired investment adviser and longtime Scouting supporter, invented a Hands-Free Hand-Washing Station that’s perfect for families or small groups.

It’s a portable, easy-to-build device that allows hand-washing anywhere at any time. The device has foot controls so users can dispense soap and water without needing to touch anything.

Cayden says completing the project with his dad (an assistant Scoutmaster) and grandmother “felt really great knowing that we had just accomplished something good.”

He encourages fellow Scouts who see a problem “to keep thinking about the answer, think outside of the box, and don’t give up on it.”

The family built several Hands-Free Hand-Washing Stations for the Lake of the Ozarks Scout Reservation in Gravois Mills, Mo.

They also shared the plans with troop leaders, Scout camp rangers, farmers and day care directors across the country. They even sent the plans to Tanzania, where officials in the East African country plan to build the stations at schools and construction sites.

David (left) and Thomas Byrne stand by as workers prepare to retire by incineration thousands of torn and tattered flags. (Photo courtesy of Prince William County Solid Waste Division)
David (left) and Thomas Byrne stand by as workers prepare to retire by incineration thousands of torn and tattered flags. (Photo courtesy of Prince William County Solid Waste Division)

Virginia: Retiring American flags with dignity

At the recycling center and landfill in Prince William County, Va., they’ll safely dispose of pretty much anything you can haul in: from tree branches and textiles to car batteries and cardboard.

They’ll even take your tattered American flags. But to properly retire those important symbols of our country, the county calls in reinforcements.

Prince William County partners with Prince William District (National Capital Area Council) to respectfully retire American flags that are no longer fit to be flown. Citizens can deposit their flags into flag retirement boxes created as Eagle Scout service projects. The program started in 2014 and has retired more than 20,000 flags to date.

Many of the cotton and polyester flags are presented to Scout units who have agreed to properly retire them.

But nylon flags, which emit toxic fumes when burned, require a separate process. The county and Scout district send those nylon flags to a company called Covanta that has the equipment to safely incinerate them.

While Scouts don’t participate directly, they are present to ensure the dignity of the ceremony — even during the pandemic. Scouts stand a safe distance away to pay their respects before the flags are loaded into an elevator that takes them to the incinerator.

On Sept. 11, 2020, Scouts were there as workers retired an estimated 4,500 to 5,000 flags, according to a release from the county.

Scouter David Byrne and his two sons, Jake and Thomas, watched it all unfold.

“The gentlemen that assist loading the flags are always respectful and professional in their efforts to maintain a dignified process for retiring the flags,” David Byrne said in the release.

Jonas Siebert and his team of 30 volunteers created an outdoor classroom — a new necessity during our COVID-19 reality. (Photo courtesy of Natasha Siebert)
Jonas Siebert and his team of 30 volunteers created an outdoor classroom — a new necessity during our COVID-19 reality. (Photo courtesy of Natasha Siebert)

Wisconsin: Creating a learning space outdoors

The pandemic has introduced schools to a lesson that Scouts have known for more than 100 years: the outdoors can be an outstanding classroom.

Many school districts, following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have moved some classrooms outside this fall.

But there’s only so much space available on picnic benches, and playgrounds make for distracting classrooms.

Jonas Siebert wanted to help. For his Eagle Scout service project, the Life Scout from Troop 23 of Brookfield, Wis. (Potawatomi Area Council), created an outdoor classroom.

The classroom has a whiteboard stand and desk for the teacher, a canopy for shade and 21 socially distanced tree stumps for seating.

“All that was here was this grassy area,” Jonas told WITI-TV in Milwaukee. “I’m very proud with how it turned out.”

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