ScoutingNovember-December 1999

A Scouting Christmas Story

By Norma Cutsforth

A troop's determination to buy a special van for an adult leader paralyzed in a bicycling accident helped bring together an entire community.

Dave and Sherri Evans chat in their comfortable, wheelchair-friendly transition home on the outskirts of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It is the first wintry day of December 1998. A Christmas tree graces the room with pictured ornaments of their children, Andy, 16, and Aubrey, 13, at various stages of growing up.

Dave speaks openly and with confidence. He has adapted well to speaking with a ventilator.

This Christmas story began the previous June. Boy Scout Troop 560 (Andy is a member), of Marion, Iowa, was enjoying a camp-out in southern Minnesota when Dave Evans, a parent leader, was injured in a bicycling accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down and unable to breath without a ventilator.

'Angels' of Troop 560

One might say that the angels came in late summer.

A wheelchair-accessible van was the only type of vehicle the Evans family could travel in together. And transportation now meant the world to Dave, a way to get to work, places, and activities that make a life.

Enter the Scouts of Troop 560. One might call them angels, because they wished to remain nameless, known simply as "Troop 560."

On Aug. 31, 1998, adult leaders and the Scouts decided they could raise $43,000 for a van for the Evans family. The goal was especially dramatic because the troop had never earned more than $1,300 in a single year.

Their goal was met six weeks later.

The main money-raising event was a "Burgers 'N' Brats Festival," which the troop scheduled for early October on the grounds of a local school, featuring food, a car wash, games, and clowns.

Along the way, the event turned into a neighborhood party.

It seems the values learned and lived by Troop 560's Scouts and families multiplied a thousandfold into the community. "Something happened with that troop," Dave Evans observed. "People came together for the sake of a community issue."

Obstacles that cropped up during the festival planning "always seemed to be removed, by local businesses, or city or school officials," an organizer recalled.

The city donated water for the car wash. Many school employees at the festival site volunteered to help. The Marion police department brought its "Officer Friendly" and arranged for a helicopter to land in the schoolyard. The city parks department provided benches and trash cans and cleaned up afterward.

Ultimately, a hundred volunteers worked the event, and a thousand persons attended.

People cheerfully stood in line up to 45 minutes to buy bratwurst or hamburgers. And they bought popcorn to munch on while they waited.

One individual paid $500 for a hamburger. Another paid $40 not to have his car washed. On-site "fishbowl" donations totaled more than $7,000. A couple later sent a check for $700, thanking the troop for a "great day."

A community affirmation

Troop 560's involvement with the Evans family extended far beyond raising money for the van. Members cared for the often-vacant family home, installing timer lights, providing lawn care, and readying the house for the sale market.

After the van was purchased, troop adults spent four weekends ferrying the vehicle to Minneapolis and Omaha to obtain necessary wheelchair adaptations.

The community affirmation that began with the October festival continued to grow. Local auto dealers donated substantial efforts and funds for the van. Dave's employer provided assistance in building a wheelchair-accessible home for the family. Local news media, service organizations, and area schools provided funds and friendship—and faith—for Dave's future.

Dave said he was able to maintain a positive attitude largely because of community support.

As he put it, "Environmental forces shape philosophies of life." His limited mobility and reliance on technology for functions most people take for granted would shape the applications of his philosophy of giving to his community. And he planned to continue volunteering in whatever ways possible.

Coming together

It is summer again—a year later. Transplanted flowers from their former home line the front sidewalk of the family's new home. Dave, Sherri, Andy, and Aubrey can live again as a family.

Dave continues his work as a CPA—on his home computer, at his company office, or meeting with clients.

Before his accident, Dave was Troop 560's advancement chairman as well as an integral part of its outdoor activities. No longer able to take a physically active role in camp-outs, he was determined to be a part of Scouting leadership and now serves as troop committee chairman.

He makes sure the troop has enough funding, supplies, and resources and organizes parent volunteers to help with programs and equipment maintenance. He also assists the advancement committee in striving for consistency in rank advancement.

He actively continues his relationship-building in Scouting, informally as well as formally. (He was gratified he could help an older Scout obtain a summer job with a telecommunications company.)

And thanks to the van, Dave and Sherri can be a part of troop outings. On a troop bicycling trip, they provided a rest stop, dispensing ice cream from the back of the van to Scout cyclists.

"New Scouts who had never met me before would come up to say 'hi' and 'thanks,'" Dave says, noting that "a Scout's interactions with a nonrelated adult is a huge benefit of Scouting. Good social skills develop; a community is built that makes an impact on kids."

Dave said that Troop 560 (and, in turn, the community) has "embraced this family far beyond any 'reasonable' expectation."

Perhaps the heart and core of a Christmas story is that what occurs isn't always "reasonable." It is about the giver a nd the recipient continually exchanging places, wanting to come together.

A Christmas story is about individuals wanting and needing to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

Norma Cutsforth lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The above article was adapted from an earlier version she wrote for the Marion (Iowa) Times.

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