KETCHIKAN — When Ketchikan High School senior Joe Chadwell watched the deadline for his Eagle Scout rank pass him by, he was disappointed, but he didn’t stop. He switched gears and roared ahead with what had been planned as his project.
He had the bones of his plan laid out, and he knew people were depending on him.
“The biggest thing is I like finishing something I start,” he told the Ketchikan Daily News. “I hate telling someone I’ll do something, then not follow through.”
Chadwell said he found out about Ketchikan’s day shelter earlier this year, and became intrigued by the idea to help.
He had set up a project that would supply hygiene kits to the homeless in Ketchikan with the aim to earn his Eagle Scout rank, but his eligibility expired when he turned 18, before he could finish. He continued to work with the Rev. Evelyn Erbele of the First United Methodist Church. She works with the First City Homeless Services Day Shelter, which is housed in the church building.
Chadwell said he started with some misconceptions, and he learned quite a bit as he worked to complete the project.
“There’s a lot more to it than I originally thought or understood,” he said.
For instance, one of the first items he wanted to put into the kits was body wash. Erbele told him that the best cleansing item to include actually was a bar of soap, which could wash, serve as shaving suds and even cleanse minor wounds.
Chadwell decided to recruit some help.
He went to Kayhi senior class advisers Susan Stone, Terri Whyte and Rebecca Bowlen; Student Body Association officers, and members of the senior class to get them up to speed on what he’d been planning.
He said many of the students were unaware that the day shelter existed and, like him, had some learning to do about homeless people.
“Their problems and issues are a whole lot bigger than ours ... they have stories.”
He said he had thought, before starting the project, that people likely became homeless because of laziness, or lack of initiative.
“I quickly learned there were a lot more factors affecting it,” he said.
He met people who had come to Ketchikan to work, but couldn’t find jobs, ran out of savings and couldn’t afford to leave. He also met people who had been working seasonally, and couldn’t find winter jobs.
“I learned how quickly you run out of money when you’re out of work ... people gamble to come up here and try to live off of that money and can’t,” he said.
He recruited fellow Kayhi seniors Jens Christianson, Cassidy Patton and Jamielyn Paule to help him solicit donations when they were sure what they were seeking.
Several donations were garnered by several volunteers — senior Britta Pihl brought toothbrushes donated by her dentist father Arne Pihl, for instance; Stone was able to work out a deal with Wells Fargo bank for sturdy canvas bags to hold the kits.
Other items packed into the kits were underwear, socks, disposable razors, toothpaste, bandages and brushes. Chadwell said the carry bags will be useful as well.
Paule and Christianson, who were at the day shelter Thursday morning to drop the kits off with Chadwell, said they had learned many of the same things that Chadwell had as they helped.
“I didn’t realize there were this many people that needed this kind of stuff,” Paule said.
Erbele told Chadwell that those basic necessities were expensive, and having them available at the shelter is extremely helpful. Thursday morning, she emphasized that homelessness does not discriminate — all races and ethnicities were affected equally.
Chadwell said he would like to see a new Student Body Association committee created that would focus only on that project.
“This is a growing issue in our community,” he said.