This Eagle is grounded

MILL CREEK — James Henry spent his summer toiling away on a project to improve the elementary school he once attended, only to have his work vandalized.

The senior at Jackson High built a reading arboretum at Woodside Elementary. He stained and installed four benches and a picnic table outside the school. He solicited donations for plants that could withstand the summer heat without much watering. He cultivated the greens until they were ready to plant in the space. The work was part of his Eagle project, the culminating task in scouting.

“I thought it’d be fitting to give back to the school,” Henry said. “I learned how to read there.”

Before starting his work, Henry, 17, plodded through the pile of paperwork that came with the project. He then had to present his plan to get the go-ahead from his scoutmaster and the Boy Scouts of America district. He also had to receive separate approvals from Woodside’s principal, the Parent Teacher Association and the school district.

Once he had the green light, Henry organized about 20 volunteers and led two work parties to get the job done. He finished in late July. But just before school started, vandals damaged his reading area.

The benches and table were uprooted and moved. The wood Henry spent time staining had cigarette burns and graffiti carved into it.

“At first, I was angry that someone had no respect for someone who did something to try to make the school nice,” he said. “Then it made me sad.”

After thinking about it, Henry said he decided to view the vandalism as one last obstacle to overcome for his project. He went to work repairing the damages so that his reading area would be restored before students returned to school.

“There’s always going to be someone who tries to ruin it,” his mother, Dori Henry, said in an email. “I hope James can show that there’s still someone who wants to make it right.”

This time, he did extra work to ensure the benches and tables could withstand vandals trying to tip them over. He used wire and steel rods to anchor the furnishings and cemented them down.

“The point was to make it permanent and keep it there,” he said.

Henry sanded the scratches and burns out of the wood. He planned to re-stain the benches and table this week. Henry said he has already received positive feedback about his work from the school principal, parents and community members. He gave a speech and dedicated the space to Woodside at parent night last week.

He also has learned from this experience.

“If someone sets you back, all you can do is go forward and continue on,” he said. “I have no doubt I’ll do another project like this again.”

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @AmyNileReports.

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