Exchange Eagle Scout

In this Jan. 2018 photo, Eagle Scout Candidate Gunner Matthews shows Pekin Police Public Information Officer Billie Ingles the contents to backpacks he put together for his Eagle Scout project. The backpacks have toys, puzzles, crayons and coloring books for distraught children when police have to arrest their parent or if the child is victimized or injured in a car crash. 

Sharon Woods Harris, Associated Press

PEKIN — A distraught young girl came alone to the Pekin Police Department seeking help, and thanks to a young Eagle Scout candidate, officers were able to calm the child down and ultimately help her.

It is not uncommon for children to be traumatized in situations when police come to their home to arrest a parent or help the child when they've been victimized or hurt in an accident. Sometimes the simple things can help calm them - a stuffed toy, crayons and a coloring book, and other items.

Boy Scout Troop 292 member Gunner Matthews of Pekin joined the Cub Scouts at age 8 and at age 12 joined the Boy Scouts. He is 18 now, and over the past several months, he has developed his project for Eagle Scout status and put in a lot of work and thought to make it happen.

Matthews put together backpacks with toys, coloring books, books, puzzles and more. He went to Kroger and Walgreens for donations for the child packs. The packs are filled with age appropriate items for different age groups.

"It's a situation where the child doesn't have any items and no say in what they can do," said Matthews. "So, the idea I had was to put together bags for the Pekin Police Department, and in situations where they have to remove kids when they're arresting a parent, these kids get these bags with items to have as their own to play with and make them think of other things besides their parents being removed."

Pekin Police Public Information Officer Billie Ingles praised Matthews for his generosity,

"Gunner contacted me and told me he wanted to do this project for Eagle Scouts, and I told him it was an awesome project," said Ingles. "He thought of it himself and talked to his mom about it.

"He came in and had all of the paperwork for me to sign with everything he had to do, the timeline and what he was going to do. He went out and got the donations and put the bags together and brought them all in. He did it all himself. We've already given two of the bags out."

Police Chief John Dossey said, "I just think from a young person's standpoint as an Eagle Scout, they're already in kind of a leadership role. For that age and especially in today's generations, he had that organization skill to come up with this idea, the project plan, project management and then complete it in the timeliness he did - I was very impressed by it."

Matthews was thrilled to help. He credits the Boy Scouts.

"I like that I know the things that I do can help the community," said Gunner. "It's helped me become friends with other boys who are in my troop.

"It has taught me to be a leader and be a friend to everyone."

To become an Eagle Scout there are 11 merit badges that scouts must earn over the course of their scouting career in areas such as service to their community and the nation, first aid, life skills, and adventure skills such as camping, fishing and environmental activities, and much more. The main thing, said Gunner's father, Troy Matthews, is to build unity, friendship and character.

Troy is an Eagle Scout as was his father and grandfather before him. One of his sons already has Eagle Scout status. His youngest son is halfway through the programs.

"It has definitely taught them leadership skills, it has built their character and allowed them to work together and to set goals that they can achieve," said Troy. "You know, it's not an easy task to become an Eagle Scout.

"They say that less than 2 percent of these boys who go into scouting actually achieve the Merit of the Eagle. I received mine when I was younger, and I know it's something the boys have looked to my example to do as well. They took a little bit longer - you try to receive it before turning 18. Both took a little bit longer in that aspect."

Both of Troy's sons juggled school, scouting and church responsibilities. At times, they were three-sport athletes.

"It's not for the faint of heart," said Troy. "It takes a lot of work and a lot of dedication.

"It was a good thing, and he was definitely thinking about the community and the impact he could have on the community. It was extremely well thought out and done."

Scout Master Dale Stafford said this is the third scout from his troop to make Eagle Scout in the past three years, and three other scouts are close to that goal. He said Matthews will have his board of review in two weeks. After that, he will become an assistant scout leader before leaving for a church mission.

"It helps show them dedication and what it means to follow through with things," said Stafford. "And a lot of times what we get are boys that don't have any father leadership at home.

"It shows you how to be prepared in life and be honest in all of the things scouting involves."

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