For those who have earned their Eagle Scout Award, the road getting there is long and difficult. But I do not believe I have met anyone who traveled that road as joyously as did CJay.
CJay started thinking early in Scouting (he’s now only 13) about his Eagle project but whatever he decided to do he wanted to make it personal.
CJay has been a patient at Primary’s Children Hospital since he was about 2 ½ months old. He has had multiple open heart surgeries and has returned every 4-6 months from the time he was 2 ½ months old until recently. He has other surgeries ahead of him so his battle is not yet over.
According to his dad, something that has always been important to CJay is to give back to others, to be grateful for what he has and to be grateful for the opportunities that he has. Primary Children’s hospital has always been something kind of special to him because of his experiences. For a long time it was, “I hate going there” but as he matured he started to realize what kind of impact the medical staff have had on his life, what kind of benefit. The tune has changed a little bit from no longer hating to go there to recognizing that he needs to go there because of his heart condition. Now, CJay looks at how he can give back to the hospital that continues to save his life and help the other kids who visit there.
CJay was diagnosed with a heart murmur. His parents did not worry much at the time until he got really, really sick and according to the medical staff at Primary Children’s was 24 hours away from congestive heart failure and would most likely die. He had his first surgery at five months old, another when he was a year old and his third one in January of 2003 at 2 ½ years old. His condition has made him a lifetime patient. CJay has a follow- up every 4-6 months, where a variety of tests are performed, connecting him closely to the hospital.
When asked how CJay handles the uncertainty in his life and having to be a lifetime patient his dad responds, “Early on CJay chose to begin looking forward and not to dwell on his past.”
Ahead for CJay – a valve replacement surgery. He is currently under observation by Primary’s because he has a leaky valve. Since his last open heart surgery there are a lot of follow-ups; a lot of wondering of what the future is going to hold. A lot of life lessons being learned like knowing what you have now and not putting off what you may have to the future. The cardiology department continues to closely track CJay.
CJay joined Cub Scouts at the age of nine and began hearing about the Eagle project. His parents continued to plant the seed of looking ahead toward his Eagle and to start thinking about what he wanted to do whenever he chose to start, whether at 13 or 17.9 years of age. His parents encouraged him to pick something meaningful.
When he turned 11 and joined the Boy Scouts he had a visit with his cardiologist and she asked him about his summer plans. CJay told her about Scout camp, and so on and she said, “Hey, when you get ready to do your Eagle maybe you should consider doing a project for us.” His eyes got really big and he responded “that’s a great idea.”
The suggestion by his cardiologist inspired CJay to start planning his project. He decided that the time was right and he was anxious to get going and could not be held back. The suggestion to do his Eagle project at Primary’s validated CJay’s internal desire to serve and gave him direction. The project became the only thing in his mind and doing the project for Primary’s as a way to give back to them for everything they have done for him and as he puts it “Saving his life multiple times.”
Originally, the project started out simply with doing blankets. Blankets were always a big thing for CJay. From the time he was admitted to the hospital, all the ER trips, he was given a blanket, something he could hold for comfort. So we thought, “okay – we will do blankets,” project planned.
Then CJay began thinking, “What if we could do more than blankets?” “What if we looked at doing clinic prizes for kids when they come up for regular appointments like chemotherapy” and the project exploded from there.
CJay wanted to do everything, everything that he had ever received or been given to him during his visits and stays at the hospital to help him feel better and get his mind off his circumstances, i.e. whatever procedure he was going to have done, whatever pain he was suffering through that day – he wanted to give that back.
Tons of ideas began coming to his mind and the family began realizing that CJay had about eight different things that he wanted to do. His parents really had to help him scope down a little bit because each one could have been an Eagle project on its own.
So the family sat down and brainstormed a bit and CJay ended up focusing on basically three items – blankets, clinic prizes and hats. The final project was inspired by a friend of his dad’s whose son [Camp] passed away from brain cancer. CJay never met him because he lived in Atlanta but he got to know Camp through his dad sharing his history. When Camp passed away it was like losing a friend for CJay even though they had never met. So we asked ourselves, ‘What can we do for cancer patients?”
The family talked to their contact at Primary Children’s who told them the cancer unit needed hats, especially fleece hats for boys. For whatever reason, the hats were all knit and were pink with bows. They had nothing for boys. She told the family that she felt horrible when she saw 12-14 year old male cancer patients see everyone else get a hat and they had nothing for them. CJay’s eyes got really big and he said excitedly, “I’m gonna do hats, I’m gonna do hats and I’m gonna do blankets.”
The hats came along as something that CJay wanted to do in memory of his friend.
CJay sat down on a Sunday afternoon and outlined what he was going to do and how he was going to do it. He constantly stopped to ask his dad what he thought about his ideas. He was anxious to get started and get it completed before Christmas because he wanted the kids to have something for Christmas.
After that the project got going pretty quickly and CJay did it over the span of around two months. His goal was to complete it in time for the special year of the Eagle but he didn’t quite make it because they did not consider the time needed to turn in the paperwork. So although the project was completed in 2012 the final paperwork did not get approved until 2013.
To help him with the project CJay started a blog – http://cjayseagleproject.blogspot.com/ and he did an amazing job with it. He created it so that those interested could follow along with his project as it progressed. One of my favorite posts is his video because it allows you to get a glimpse of who CJay is. And check out the merit badges he has earned. It is clear that CJay is no slacker and loves Scouting.
Uniting the Community
CJay had 200 hours donated to his project. Seventy-five people worked directly or indirectly on the project. A lot of sisters in the family’s LDS ward helped to sew hats for him. The LDS ward youth group came together to tie blankets. It brought people together and united them around this service project that was his Eagle project. The community and family became involved after looking at this kid who was doing this project for the right reasons, not just finding the quickest project he could do. Or how can I get my Eagle in two weeks – I want to do the bare minimum. It was “Wow, look at this kid, he wants to give back.” “He understands where he’s at in life and what’s important.”
The family had people from all over get involved with the project. People in his grandmother’s neighborhood got involved, people that his dad worked with in Atlanta and Raleigh all asked what they could do to help. Some even offered to make a donation to a local hospital in CJay’s name.
And, as if the three projects he was working on were not enough, one of his cardiologists suggested that he make his own coloring book. Of course CJay loved the idea and made one based off his experience of how to turn something scary into something not so scary.
I am often amazed at how children like CJay draw people to them. Amazing to this story are the relationships with the cardiologist, hospital, wards and business contacts. People connecting together and not just to complete the physical tasks CJay achieved with this project but bringing everyone together and giving them a chance to serve. This project epitomizes what the Eagle project represents. CJay inspired others and lifted them up to help.
The Project Reaches More Patients
Originally, the project was for cardiology. The cardiology department requested to keep the donations in their area because they were short on gifts but cardiology determined that they could not keep it all for themselves and began sharing with other departments like sharing the blankets with kids doing a sleep test.
One family that donated some fleece to the project ended up in the NICU with their son for about four months. Their son was given one of the blankets that CJay had donated as part of his project and it was the material the family had donated – blue fleece with ducks.
CJay Inspires His Dad
“He has always been an inspiration to me; the way that he has carried himself. He’s been able to do a lot of the things other kids have but he definitely has limitations. For example, he can’t play football but he loves football. He can’t play hockey and he loves hockey. He can play baseball but he doesn’t like baseball. Through all of it he has never had a poor me attitude. Never asked, “Why do I have to go through this?” “Why is this my lot in life?” “Why can’t I be healthy and maybe have a different life?”’
“Obviously there have been some things where he has been scared to death but just the determination he has to get through it, that tomorrow is going to be a better day than today has always been something that has really touched me. He is more an inspiration now than he has ever been. I look at him as honestly someone that I strive to be like as his dad. The work that he put into his project, the sacrifices to make time to make calls and following-up with people to make sure they were doing what they promised. It was inspiring to see his growth from just a kid to a young man who knows more about life than kids five to six years older than him. It has been very inspiring to be a part of. Every time I look at him I just have to smile.”
CJay completed his project at the age of 12 years but he is not done serving.
With Scouting he has always been “pedal to the metal” his dad says. CJay loves Scouting and what it represents. He loves serving. He is the first to call all the other Scouters when a service project comes up. He tells them to make sure they are there and he will bring doughnuts, which is always a surprise to his parents who have to rush out and buy doughnuts. He is always looking out for everybody. He has always loved to serve. Scouting has helped to give him a framework for it.
CJay lives the Scout Oath and Law. It is not just something he says from memory. It is who he is.
Author: Heidi Sanders | Marketing & PR Director, Utah National Parks Council