By Erika Webb
Most times, when an adolescent presents the sheriff's office with obstacles, achievement awards do not follow.
This is not one of those times.
Fourteen-year-old Kaj Eckhardt, a member of Boy Scout Troop 804, began the detailed process of earning his Eagle Scout ranking exactly one year ago.
After discovering the Volusia County Sheriff's Office K-9 training field needed some sprucing up, Kaj decided to make that his community project.
"The purpose of the Eagle Scout project is to give the scout an opportunity to plan, develop and give leadership to others. Eagle Scout projects are evaluated on the benefit to the organization being served and on the leadership provided by the candidate. There must also be evidence of organized planning and development," according to scoutingmagazine.org.
Jimmy Davis is the assistant scoutmaster helping with Kaj's project.
"Whatever the scoutmaster tells me to do," he said.
Mr. Davis said he "came on board" to help Kaj a couple of months ago.
"The troop met at my wife's church, so I got drafted. It's only an hour a week. That's the running joke in Boy Scouts, only an hour a week," he said.
The man-hours on Kaj's project are actually 542 and counting according to Kaj's grandfather, Sam Eckhardt, who is a scoutmaster and the committee chairman for Troop 804.
Kaj's dad, Troy Eckhardt, also a scoutmaster, and Kaj's 12-year-old brother, Japheth Eckhardt, a Boy Scout First Class, are members of the large crew helping Kaj with the endeavor.
"We've had a lot of people, a lot of family members who are police," Japheth said. "Kaj's always been interested in the K-9 Unit and we heard this needed to be done."
Japheth nodded when asked if it's been a lot of work.
"Yeah, but it's enjoyable," he said.
Kaj appears to think a lot more than he speaks. He's polite, articulate, focused -- very focused -- and maybe a little shy.
Holding his project notebook close to his chest and glancing around at the newly restored obstacles on the course, he looked serious. He said the project turned out to be a little more difficult than he expected, but not much.
"I thought helping the K-9 Unit would be cool," he said. "I think it's pretty important."
Kaj said the completed project will have to be granted final approval by the Advancement Committee Board of Review and the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America before he'll obtain the coveted Eagle Scout ranking and badge.
He and his dad both hope that will happen before the end of this year.
"This is the 100th year anniversary of the Eagle Scout," Mr. Troy Eckhardt said. "That's why we're really trying to get it this year."
Sgt. David MacDonald has been in charge of the Volusia County Sheriff's Office K-9 Unit for two years. He said he's worked with Kaj and his crew for the better part of this year.
"The little guy has done a heck of a job for us," he said. "He's a good kid."
He said Kaj is definitely making a difference for the community with this project.
"He's done everything from planning and measuring, overseeing the work done by the others, to final restoration of our obstacles -- all at no cost to us," Sgt. MacDonald said.
Star Scout Sam Brunnig, 15, is a dedicated member of Kaj's crew.
"You always help the person ahead of you so when you become (ready for) Eagle Scout people will help you get your project done," he said.
An independent research study, Merit Beyond the Badge conducted by Baylor University, demonstrated the significant, positive impact Eagle Scouts have on society every day. The study found that Eagle Scouts are more likely than men who have never been in Scouting to have higher levels of planning and preparation skills; be goal-oriented, and network with others; be in a leadership position at their place of employment or within their local community.
The study showed they report having closer relationships with family and friends; volunteer for religious and nonreligious organizations; donate money to charitable groups; and work with others to improve their neighborhoods.
Since it was first awarded in 1912, more than 2 million young men have achieved scouting's highest rank, according to the Boy Scouts of America website.
Scout First Class Samuel Rowan, 12, said he has mostly enjoyed helping Kaj with the undertaking, especially since he plans eventually to work on his own community project for Eagle Scout distinction.
"He's pretty good actually," Samuel said of Kaj's management style. "This project has gone really well. Kaj did all of the designs and measurements, told us what to do and helped because he had everything planned out and coordinated."
Kaj's dad said the Eagle Scout project is not permitted to be something that benefits an individual or a family, that it must be outside the Scout's sphere of influence, a church -- sometimes the church where a troop meets -- or something to benefit the community at large.
In addition to general planning, designing and organizing, the future Eagle Scout is responsible for the project's fundraising.
In Kaj's case, there was plenty of legwork there, too.
"Some of it he worked for doing lawn care for people, household maintenance and that kind of thing," Mr. Eckhardt said. Some of it was solicited donations from business owners. Part of it was donations from Lowes and from All Star Lumber in Ormond Beach."
Mr. Eckhardt said Kaj also got a matching grant from the Dr. Phillips Foundation in Orlando.
The project's total costs exceeded $2,500 he said.
Mr. Davis said the rankings leading up to Eagle are Scout, Tender Foot, Scout Second Class, Scout First Class, Star and Life.
"The majority of boys drop out when they hit Life. That's when it gets tough," he said.