James Heuser's Eagle Scout project took him a fair distance from his home base of Lutherville, but on the journey he gained a respect and insight to the legacy of veterans and, in turn, embraced a project designed to help provide them a place of relaxation and reflection.
Heuser, 16, a Boy Scout with Troop 828 in Lutherville, took on the project of building a large gazebo on the grounds of the Perry Point Veterans Affairs Medical Center, in Harford County.
"I knew I wanted to do something special to show veterans how much I appreciate all they have done to protect our country," said Heuser, the son of Dr. Mark and Leslie Heuser, "and I thought the gazebo would provide them with a place to relax and enjoy the outdoors."
The project first took root when Heuser was 14, and signed up to become a youth volunteer at a long-term care unit at Perry Point, and also at the Loch Raven VA Community Living & Rehabilitation Center.
He said the volunteer experience had him playing checkers and cards, writing letters and listening to veterans share their wartime experiences.
It was during that time that Heuser developed the concept for his Eagle Scout project. Eagle is the highest rank that can be achieved in scouting, and requires candidates to plan, organize and complete a large-scale community service project.
The gazebo project took about two years to complete, from planning to the end of construction.
Over that time, Heuser raised nearly $16,000 for the project with the support of the Towson American Legion Post 22, along with other veterans service organizations and individual contributors.
Heuser talked to staff at the Perry Point center to help plan the gazebo, and got help from his fellow Scouts at Troop 828, family members and from members of AmeriCorps, a Pennsylvania-based construction contractor. His design included everything from computer-aided drawings to the digging of the footers and assembly of the gazebo.
"James has performed a stellar job in working with VA staff to create a structure that is the most appropriate for patient use, including wheelchair access and benches for seating," said Betsy Bradford, business manager for the Geriatrics and Extended Care Clinical Center for the VA Maryland Health Care System.
VA staff said the new gazebo is already providing a outdoor environment for the residents to enjoy.
"I have learned so much during the past two years about how to plan a construction project but, most of all, how many people are willing to work together on a project that benefits hospitalized veterans," Heuser said.
"I am so grateful to all the people who have guided and encouraged me along the way to reach my goal," he said. "I hope that the gazebo will ... serve as a peaceful place."