Alex holding his laptop

When you feel lost, music can be your saving grace.

In April, as the virus continued to spread its dangers, toils and snares across the country, Alex Miller looked at the calendar with trepidation.

He could practically hear the clock ticking down the three months until July 30, his 18th birthday. He had one remaining requirement for the Eagle Scout rank: “plan, develop, and give leadership to others in a service project.”

While Alex knew that time extensions are available during COVID-19, he also understood that conditions might not improve any time soon. And besides, he wanted to find a way to leave an Eagle project-caliber mark on his community during its time of greatest need.

That meant acting now.

Alex devised a project he could complete without face-to-face contact with volunteers, one that harnesses his skills and passions, and — most importantly — one that would have an immediate impact.

Alex, a member of Troop 402 of Wadsworth, Ohio (Great Trail Council), planned, developed and led an effort to create three worship videos for his church, bringing joy, comfort and spirituality when his community needed it most.

“The project took place when many churches were not able to meet in person due to COVID-19,” Alex says. “Making these videos showed me that music can truly spread hope and make a difference during these hard times.”

Watch the videos at the end of this post, and keep reading for more of our interview with Alex, his parents and his district’s Eagle advancement chairman.

Alex edited the videos using GarageBand and Final Cut Pro on his MacBook Pro.
Alex edited the videos using GarageBand and Final Cut Pro on his MacBook Pro.

What the project involved

If you’ve ever tried to stitch together a few clips into a simple video to share with friends, you know that editing video is a time-consuming task. I’ve drained an hour creating a one-minute video that was just a few family photos and videos put to music.

That makes Alex’s effort downright Herculean.

For the “Amazing Grace” video, which is my favorite of the three, Alex had to collect videos from 28 different singers, synchronize their submissions down to the millisecond and weave everything together into a compelling finished product. He even added B-roll videos of the church, community, schools and parks to play behind the singers.

So just how long did all that work take? Thanks to the reporting requirements for Eagle Scout projects, we know the exact number.

Alex’s project involved 108.5 hours of service. That includes 87.5 hours of work by Alex himself and an additional 21 hours spread among the 36 members of his team.

Here’s an overview of the step-by-step process:

  • Alex recruited prospective volunteers through emails, calls, texts and social media posts.
  • He created a website to guide participants through each step of the virtual choir process.
  • He worked with his church’s vocal director to select the hymns.
  • He created videos for participants to use when rehearsing.
  • He sent regular updates to the project beneficiary and participants.
  • He established and enforced deadlines for submissions.
  • He took photos and videos to be used as backgrounds and B-roll during the videos.
  • He accepted all video submissions and used Final Cut Pro to edit together the audio and visuals into the three final products.
  • He shared the videos online. They were even broadcast during a virtual worship service for Wadsworth United Methodist Church.
Alex posted instructional videos and text for participants in his project — and for others wanting to duplicate Alex’s efforts.
Alex posted instructional videos and text for participants in his project — and for others wanting to duplicate Alex’s efforts.

What he learned

It’s a lesson better learned in Scouting than when your career is at stake: Plans fall through.

When Alex learned it would be difficult to complete an Eagle project in person, he didn’t plow ahead anyway. He adapted.

“I learned that I need to be flexible with big projects like this,” he says. “I like to try to plan as much as I can in advance, but I have learned that not everything needs to happen exactly the way I plan it. There will always be some roadblocks, but it’s important to keep going.”

Here’s what else Alex learned:

  • You can be a leader anywhere, at any time. “Leadership can take place in a digital setting and still be effective,” Alex says. “I was able to lead many people who I never met in person to completing a task that was new to them, too.”
  • You can make a difference, even during a pandemic. “Don’t be afraid to try something different or nontraditional,” Alex says. “Choose a project that you are truly passionate about, and you will find a way to make it happen.”
  • Eagle projects don’t have to leave something physical behind to have a lasting impact. “I had the perception that Eagle projects had to have a tangible result, which I now know is not true,” Alex says. “I was able to complete this project completely virtually, while still making a positive impact on my community and strengthening my leadership skills along the way.”

Alex completed his project before his 18th birthday.

And on Aug. 6, he passed his Eagle Scout board of review. (Yes, Scouts are permitted to have their Eagle board of review after their 18th birthday, provided all other requirements are met before turning 18.)

Not wanting to keep his expertly conducted Eagle project to himself, Alex posted easy-to-follow plans on his project’s website. He encourages others to follow the steps to create their own inspirational video.

The adults who helped

No Eagle Scout reaches that pinnacle achievement alone, and Alex is no exception.

Let’s have a round of applause for Paul Dexheimer, the Eagle advancement chairman for Alex’s district. When Alex contacted Dexheimer worried about deadlines, safety and logistics, Dexheimer helped him brainstorm ways to complete a project that would channel Alex’s interests, hobbies and skills in a unique but safe way.

“In my opinion, his project is an incredible testament to adaptability, leadership and perseverance,” Dexheimer says. “‘Amazing Grace’ brought my wife to tears.”

And let’s also hear it for Mom and Dad: Lorrie and Jim Miller.

When Alex told them his idea, they loved how it would help people connect even though they could not get together in person.

“This project allowed Alex to use his talents while bringing joy to others,” Jim Miller says.

Alex took full control of his Eagle project, just like everything in his Scouts BSA journey, but Jim and Lorrie served as listening ears whenever Alex needed them.

“We feel this Eagle project allowed Alex to showcase many of the skills that Scouts have helped him develop over the years,” Lorrie Miller says. “We could not be more proud of how this all turned out.”

Watch the videos

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