Ben Caldwell, 17, a Santa Clara resident, is a member of Scouts BSA (formerly Boy Scouts of America) in Troop 394. Back in November 2020, when he was 16, Caldwell earned the rank of the Eagle for his mask-making project. Because of delays due to COVID-19, he wasn’t recognized until recently. On June 13, Caldwell received official recognition for soaring to the rank of the Eagle at the Eagle Court of Honor awards ceremony held at the Santa Clara Elks Lodge.
According to Caldwell, he and his team put in about 700 hours of work that went into producing and distributing 2,063 masks.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, there were a lot of people talking about how we needed to help in ways that we were able,” Caldwell said. “I saw a lot of stories about people sewing cloth masks for front line workers. But they were not really helping the general community and public who also needed masks to help themselves and others to stay safe. Doing my Eagle project was my way of helping my community stay safe. The entire Eagle project is led by the Scout.”
Caldwell worked on his project in California and Wisconsin simultaneously. Because Caldwell led this project virtually, he couldn’t be there to help some team members in person. This was one logistical challenge he worked to overcome.
“I had a large quantity of volunteers helping with my project,” Caldwell said. “There were 34 volunteers, most of whom were members of my troop. I put together instructional videos to teach how to make the masks. These videos taught how to gather the materials, cut the fabric and assemble the masks with a sewing machine. I oversaw two different mask distribution events held at the Santa Clara Farmer’s Market. There were also about 600 masks distributed to local community organizations, specifically targeted to benefit the elderly and the homeless, such as the John Burns Gardens and HomeFirst.
“Early on in the pandemic, there was a mad dash for masks,” Caldwell continued. “And then masks were hard to come by, especially in states like Wisconsin. So, most people seemed grateful there was an easy way to get a mask. The masks were mostly distributed during the summer of 2020. Most of the fabric and some of the elastics we used were donated or things that the volunteers already had.”
At the June 13 awards ceremony, Caldwell was the only honoree.
“The event started with a reading of a letter of recognition and a proclamation given by Lisa Gillmor, the Mayor of Santa Clara,” Caldwell said. “City Council Member Kathy Watanabe gave me a pin from the City of Santa Clara. When you’re given the rank of the Eagle, you get a patch that goes on your uniform. I gave away pins to my mentors in the Scouts BSA who I felt had helped me in my scout experience. I will remain in scouting with my troop until they kick me out when I turn 18.”