While most teenagers are preoccupied with school and sports, 17-year-old Cameron Drake spent three years raising funds and building a playground for his church to become an Eagle Scout.
His plan to finance and construct the playground began four years ago as Drake formulated his required service project for a nonprofit group to attain Eagle Scout status. To achieve the highest rank organization, the scout must plan, finance and supervise a project “worthy of an Eagle Scout,” Troop 15 Scoutmaster Lovie Smith said.
A worthy cause appeared in Drake’s church’s backyard, literally.
St. Paul United Methodist Church on Summit Street in Gainesville closed its children’s ministry program four years ago, leaving many of the church’s children in need of a place to play. The church’s pastor, Rev. Clarence Thrower, Drake and Smith met to discuss building a playground for Drake’s Eagle Scout project. Thrower quickly agreed.
“I think it was very good for him to do this,” he said. “He could have done something else, but he was thinking about the children of the community and St. Paul United Methodist Church.”
The project began in 2010 and quickly proved to be a greater challenge than Drake was expecting.
“Raising the funds was probably the hardest part,” he said.
Most Eagle Scout projects take only a few months and cost between $300 and $500. Drake’s project took three years and he raised almost $5,000.
“We didn’t expect for it to take this long or cost this much,” Smith said. “The more we did, the more we needed to do.”
Troop 15 and the church raised the funds primarily through solicitation letters promising anyone who donated more than $100 a plaque in the fellowship hall. At the court of honor celebrating Drake’s rise to Eagle Scout, he presented the plaques to the recipients.
Drake also raised funds by organizing a fish fry and a local gospel music concert, as well as paying out of his own pocket.
Despite becoming an Eagle Scout on Feb. 5, Drake continued to work on the playground.
“We still needed to add some things, so it kind of felt the same,” he said. “It didn’t really hit me that I’m an Eagle Scout until this past Saturday.”
The church and his grandmother were the primary motivations for finishing the project, even after obtaining Eagle Scout rank, Drake said.
“My grandmother acted like another scoutmaster during the project,” he said. “She kept telling me she wanted it to be done before she died.”
The playground is on a previous part of the church’s parking lot. The scout troop and volunteers cut the asphalt with a concrete saw, graded the dirt with an excavator, killed all of the weeds that grew after two weeks of rain, applied a plastic cover, built a fence, rebuilt and refinished the playset and added mulch to the ground.
The playset itself was made by Rainbow Play Systems out of California redwood and was donated by Hall County Commissioner Scott Gibbs. Other donations include the fencing by church member Tony Borders, and the stone plaque decorating the playground by Gainesville Marble & Granite.
Troop 15 has 11 boy scouts and Drake is the fifth Eagle Scout to come from the troop since 1989. Though it is a small troop, four scouts are planning to start their own Eagle Scout projects in the next six months. If all are successful, the number of Eagle Scouts from Troop 15 in the past two decades would double.
“Only two out of 100 boy scouts go on to make Eagle Scout,” Smith said. “For a teenage boy, I can’t think of something better for him to put on his resume.
“It’s been a joy working with Cam,” he continued. “He is such an outstanding individual and his family is so supportive.”
Drake is an upcoming senior at Gainesville High School, where he maintains a 3.7 GPA and competes on the basketball and track teams. After graduation, Drake hopes to attend the University of Georgia or Georgia Southern University before continuing to law school. He has a black belt in karate and is an avid swimmer.