By Adrienne Cornwall
Photos by Rebecca F. Miller
COLUMBIA, Mo. (December 10, 2014) — Brayden Stallons knows that this holiday season, many families will only be able to gather around a meal as simple as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“I want to try to change that,” said Brayden at his Midway Boy Scout Troop 68 meeting last week.
To earn his Eagle Scout ranking, the 14-year-old Rock Bridge High School freshman launched a frozen turkey drive, dubbed “Gobble Up Hunger,” in partnership with the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri.
“Even though Brayden is young, he has a great desire to help others and make a difference,” said Food Bank Executive Director Peggy Kirkpatrick. “He wanted to impact someone’s life.”
This Boy Scout’s compassion is not the only exceptional aspect of this project – he’s also tackling it years before most scouts do.
Scouts have until age 18 to earn this top rank in the program, said Troop 68 Scoutmaster Clayton Fish, and they typically take about 6 months, rather than 6 weeks, to complete from start to finish.
“He tackled it early,” Fish said. “I like the way he’s progressing in the troop.”
So are his peers, it seems, since he was nominated by them to the national scouting honor society, Order of the Arrow, which promotes the outdoor Scouting program.
Preparing and managing the project and volunteers are the primary learning opportunities for this Scouting leadership experience, and Brayden has recruited his fellow troop mates and several adults to help solicit donations from area grocery stores and the public.
One of his biggest challenges has been talking with large groups, such as the volunteer training he conducted just after his project was approved by the local Scout leadership on Oct. 20.
Because Brayden has autism, speaking in front of a crowd or with strangers is often difficult. That day, he was demonstrating to his troop mates how to solicit donations from retail store managers.
“He has tremendous motivation,” said Mike Richey, Brayden’s project mentor. “His biggest challenge in his training was to get the motivation into those boys. By the end, you could hear a pin drop. The boys were motivated.”
With 34 turkeys pledged or collected so far, he’s not far from his unwritten goal of 40 turkeys for families served by the Food Bank by Dec. 15. He’s also received more than $400 in cash donations for the Food Bank to purchase additional turkeys in bulk from the Hy-Vee grocery store on Nifong Boulevard, which could push the total collection closer to 100 turkeys.
Brayden’s mom, Pam Salmon, said he’d like to see his stepdad’s pickup truck filled with turkeys by the project deadline on Monday.
“The caring aspect of this project has really been important to him,” Salmon said.
His success with this turkey drive speaks to how far Brayden has come since his autism diagnosis at age 2.
With the help of various behavioral and other therapies through the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders and dedicated learning specialists at school, he has developed from a nonverbal 4-year-old into a focused, hardworking teen leader with plans to work in technology after college.
He has a head start on that goal in his information technology class at Rock Bridge that allows him to earn college credit at the same time.
What he’s learned on his Eagle Scout project is more intangible.
“I feel confident about speaking about it,” Brayden said. “That’s helped a lot.”