BRISTOL – John Dawson knew his upcoming Eagle Scout project was the perfect chance to demonstrate skills he had learned during 10 years of scouting, but he also wanted the project to have a lasting impact on the community.
Dawson's wish came true in August when he delivered an assortment of fun, colorful games to Wellmont Hospice for its annual Camp Caterpillar – creating more laughter and smiles at this compassionate and innovative camp designed to help children who have experienced the death of a loved one.
“I believe strongly in Camp Caterpillar,” said Dawson, a member of Troop 108 in Bristol. “My grandfather died when I was about 7, so I understand a little bit about how this can feel to a kid. I wanted to do something to help.”
A free annual one-day event for children from prekindergarten to 12th grade, as well as their family members, the camp has helped young people deal with grief. Camp sessions address feelings associated with grief, methods of coping with death and ways to build special memories of deceased loved ones. The camp relies on crafts and interactive games to make learning fun.
Dawson first considered helping the camp after speaking with his scoutmaster about project ideas. That person is Don McGregor, a bereavement counselor with Wellmont Hospice.
“John was a volunteer at Camp Caterpillar setup in April and has several friends who had worked with the camp in previous years,” McGregor said. “This exposure captured his interest in working with children.”
McGregor told Dawson about the need for durable game pieces for the 2014 camp, which will be held in the spring.
“John took the basic idea and created the games that will be a blessing to future campers,” he said. “Our camp attracts a considerable number of children, so we are fortunate to have this very creative gift to ensure we have a sufficient amount of activities.”
The project required 25 people working more than 150 man hours to complete. Due to Eagle Scout stipulations, Dawson usually wasn't the one swinging the hammer or working the saw.
“The majority of the actual building and project construction was a work day that I scheduled and oversaw,” Dawson said. “The crew consisted of 13 Scouts and various other adults. My job was to provide a leadership role, directing construction and clearly articulating our goals.”
Dawson and his family applied the finishing touches, including a caterpillar cutout that allows children to have their pictures taken looking like an extremely hungry caterpillar.
“It felt wonderful when we dropped the pieces off at Wellmont Hospice House and I saw the reactions of all the staff members,” Dawson said. “It was a real blessing to be able to give these kids a little bit of joy and help them in their loss. It was a good project, and I'm glad I got to be part of it.”
For more information, please contact Wellmont Hospice at 423-844-5252 or visit www.wellmont.org.