NEENAH — Scouting and soccer are among Joe Kerwin’s passions, so the St. Mary Catholic High School junior welcomed the opportunity to combine the two for the benefit of young people in Africa.
For his Eagle Scout project, Kerwin, a member of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Neenah, collected more than 300 pounds of soccer equipment for Matoso Academy, a school just outside Kisumu, Kenya.
“We shipped shoes, balls and sent them pumps,” said Kerwin, who plays soccer for both the Zephyrs and a club team. “To compact the space, we deflated the balls, so we could fit more in the box. We sent jerseys as well. I don’t think A & W (restaurant) has quite made it to Kenya, but they were really happy with the jerseys.”
Kerwin, a member of Troop 81, found the project, “Kicking in for Kenya” online. He promoted the collection through email and set up a tent for donations at a club tournament.
“We had a FAQ (frequently asked questions) sheet for people, so they knew where the equipment was going,” he explained. “We also had boxes spread around the park. We received a lot more than I thought we would. We got some vintage shoes that I didn’t think people would still have around. Some soccer balls from 20 years ago were donated. They were pretty cool. There were people dropping goalie gloves off, so we sent a few of those over.
“I suspected that we would have a good showing by my club, because obviously they were the most well-informed, but I was pleasantly surprised by the clubs that were visiting the tournaments,” he added. “That was really cool to see. I was planning on sending six boxes. We ended up sending 14. It far surpassed what I expected.”
Many of the Kenyan students were previously using makeshift balls constructed from plastic bags tied together with twine.
“It’s a big thing for them,” said Kerwin, the son of Phil Kerwin and Alyssa Dudkowski. “At the end of their school year, they have a big soccer tournament for all the kids in school. I was told that it was more enjoyable this year because they had better equipment.”
Shipping was the biggest challenge for Kerwin, a National Honor Society member who is also a third degree black belt in karate, plays the piano and trumpet in the school jazz band and is a member of the VEX Robotics team. The organization Lalmba, based in Longmont, Colo., works with Matoso Academy.
“Most of it was sent straight to Kenya,” said Kerwin. “It was very expensive. There were some unexpected shipping costs that we didn’t account for in budgeting. We didn’t have somebody to work it through customs, so we had to pay an extra fee for that.”
The remaining boxes were sent to the organization’s headquarters. Representatives brought the items to Kenya during visits. Kerwin said that he learned a great deal from the experience.
“It’s interesting to see how it all works from the top,” he said. “Most of the service projects I have done, I’m a helper. My teammates helped me out. Members of my Boy Scout troop volunteered. Friends helped me sort.”
Kerwin began his project in May of 2014. He received the Eagle, the highest honor in Boy Scouts, in March of this year.
“It really means a lot,” he said about the Eagle. “It’s been a lifelong goal starting at a young age. Only about three percent of Boy Scouts get it. It’s nice to be able to put that on college applications and job resumes.”
Kerwin received a surprising reward in the form of photos from Kenya showing students wearing the soccer shoes and using the equipment. He included the photos in the Eagle Scout materials he presented to the board of review.
“We didn’t know that those were coming,” he said. “One day, around 50 showed up in my email.”
Kerwin assisted another Scout who organized a collection the following season. He hopes to go to Kenya one day.
“One of the things I would like to do, if possible, is to visit every country in the world,” he said. “I have a desire to go there. I would definitely like to visit the school and see it in person.”
Troopmates earn Eagle honor
Nathan Berg and Collin Haese, members of Troop 81 and St. Margaret Mary Parish, were also awarded the honor of Eagle Scout.
Berg, a junior at St. Mary Catholic High School, was inspired by the family beagle, George, a shelter rescue animal, for his Eagle Scout project. Berg, the son of Jeff and Kim Berg of Neenah, constructed a 90 x 3-foot path of paver stone path between the Neenah Animal Shelter and the fenced outdoor exercise area. In addition to Scouting, Berg is also active in powerlifting and is a member of the VEW Robotics team at school.
Haese, the son of Chris Haese and Becky Frelich of Neenah, is a junior at Neenah High School. His Eagle Scout project provides safety for boaters. Haese constructed a “Kids Don’t Float” life jacket loaner station at High Cliff State Park Marina in Sherwood. The station provides life jackets for boaters who do not have sufficient supply or incorrect sizes. Haese, who participates in football, track, DECA, Launch (mentoring) and student council, and is a member of the National Honor Society, created a set of master plans on how to build a station, which the DNR has adopted as its model.