Eagle Scout project aids Arbutus nonprofit

It was back in March that Catonsville resident David Luco came up with an idea for the project to demonstrate his leadership skills that he needed to complete in order to become an Eagle Scout.

With some plywood, a few volunteers and a commitment to serving his community, Luco made six 3- by 3- by 2-foot rolling wooden storage crates for Southwest Emergency Services (SWES).

The crates will mainly be used for storing items that will be sold at the thrift store the Arbutus-based nonprofit operates on the campus of Arbutus United Methodist Church.

The wheels will make it easier for the group's volunteers to "transfer the goods back and forth from storage to the shop," he said.

"We had old wooden mesh playpens and they were a mess, and he took and made us these awesome containers on wheels that are about the size of playpens," said Betty Okonski, the director of SWES who started the nonprofit 32 years ago at the Catholic Community at Relay in Halethorpe.

"We were able to get rid of the old ones and have these gorgeous containers that we put the donations in before they are sorted," she said.

"He did a fabulous job," she said. "They look absolutely beautiful."

Luco, a member of Boy Scout Troop 456 based at St. Mark Catholic Church, had volunteered with SWES during its annual Christmas toy giveaway, the nonprofit's biggest event.

More than 60 volunteers are part of the nonprofit that helps needy families with food, clothing and other goods and services.

"SWES is an organization that gives a lot to the community," Luco said. "I saw this as a good opportunity to help someone else."

SWES, which is supported by 21 area churches, currently operates out of a 5,000-square foot building on the property of Arbutus United Methodist on Maple Avenue.

In addition to selling discounted goods, it provides support to community members who are struggling to pay utility bills, dealing with eviction or facing other challenges.

"We meet almost every citizen need in the 21227 [ZIP code] of Baltimore County," Okonski said.

Luco decided to use his Eagle Scout Project to help the volunteers move and store the large quantities of donated goods they receive on a daily basis.

After he gathered materials and drew up plans, work on the crates began in August in the backyard of his grandparents' Catonsville home.

According to Eagle Scout Project requirements, Luco was not allowed to do any of the labor. Instead, it was up to him to organize a group of volunteers and direct them through the process.

"It was 100 percent on Boy Scouts, family members and friends in the community to help out," he said.

Luco and his team finished the crates after spending three Saturdays building them. They were delivered to SWES in October.

Scott Luco, David Luco's father, was one the volunteers who helped build the crates.

"It was fun," Scott Luco said. "It was kind of neat to do that and avoid trying to tell David how I thought it should be done."

David Luco is the youngest of four sons, and his older brothers are all Eagle Scouts. Once he fills out some paperwork and completes a final interview called a board of review, he will be on his way to earning the rank.

"I'm really excited to hold up the legacy in my family of the men becoming Eagle Scouts," he said. "And I'm excited to be a leader and a role model for younger Scouts behind me.

"The Boy Scouts have helped me develop really well and have taught me great life skills," he said. "The knowledge is just a great thing to have with you throughout your life."

A junior at Mount St. Joseph High School, Luco also participates in stage crew for school drama productions, plays French horn in band and sings in the choir.

After graduating, he hopes to take a gap year before college and travel the country doing missionary work with NET Ministries, a Catholic organization that held a retreat he attended at St. Mark.

"[The missionaries] all seemed to love what they were doing," he said, "and it made me want to do that too."

Like David Luco, Okonski is passionate about helping people in need.

SWES, she said, has gained a reputation for its dedication to making a difference.

"People know what we do," said the organization's sole employee. "Ninety-three percent of all their money goes to the client. There's not too many charities that can say that."

Last week, Okonski said the volunteers made more than 20 food baskets in one day.

"That's 20 families we helped to make sure they're at least not gonna go hungry tonight," she said.

Okonski calls SWES "a very small Salvation Army," and after 32 years, said she still looks forward to coming into work every day.

"I want to help," she said. "It's just what I was meant to do."

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad