William Fitzgerald Jr. finished his Eagle Scout public service project Saturday, after a series of frustrating delays that included puncturing an irrigation line two weeks ago.
His mission was to erect a 40-foot flagpole and plaque outside Friendship Missionary Baptist Church on Beatties Ford Road no easy task for any 15-year-old boy, let alone one with Down syndrome.
But if Williams disability gives him anything, its determination.
He was going to put up the flagpole, one way or another, out of gratitude to his church family at Friendship, which he says has encouraged him for years.So William, who faces speaking and learning challenges, was undaunted when several obstacles toppled his precise schedule like so many dominoes.
First came water spewing from the intended site of his flagpole.
That gusher meant he had to cover the hole with fresh sod and stop work until after the National Baptist Convention, which was hosted by his church.
Then he lost his crew of volunteers to the start of school.
Finally, with his work permit about to expire, an elaborate church funeral halted his project again.
We were told we had to move everything and stop: No work during the funeral, said his mom, Rina Fitzgerald. I sat in the parking lot and waited from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
William was unfazed.
Every time a problem got in his way on the project, someone stepped up with a solution whether it was other scouts in Troop 63, fellow students at Hopewell High, local businesses, or even strangers whod meet William and agree to donate services and supplies without asking a lot of questions.
The benefactors include Conder Flag, a Charlotte company so moved by Williams drive that it provided him with a used flagpole it had been storing for a home builder who went out of business.
We saw that he was at a disadvantage, said Barry Austin of Conder Flag. We have a heart for that, a heart for people trying to make their way in the world. It would be really nice to see him be successful.
Reginald Morehead, scoutmaster of Troop 63, said thats how all the boys in his troop feel. Many were Cub Scouts with William and they learned over the years to guide him with a gentle hand.
But best of all, Morehead said, is when other Scouts stand and wait as William quietly fiddles and studies, until he solves a problem in his own sweet time. Then, they sometimes cheer and everyone moves on to the next challenge.
Morehead recalled that when William failed repeatedly to get his swimming certificate at camp, he practiced in the afternoons until his strength improved. It took him another year, but he finally passed the test.
William just refuses to give up, Morehead said. Hes doing his Eagle project with a lot of help, but thats what an Eagle project is supposed to be. He has to lead, and other boys support him.
William is not the only disabled Boy Scout in the Mecklenburg County Council, though the council doesnt have an exact count. Troop 63, which is based at Friendship Missionary Baptist, had another boy who was visually impaired.
Mark Turner, Scout executive for the Mecklenburg County Council, said the community has even had other disabled teens, including a boy with autism, achieve Eagle status.
The councils philosophy is not to have separate troops for Scouts with disabilities. Thats partly because of the impact kids with disabilities have on other boys.
You go back to Williams troop and youll see 15- and 16-year-old boys wanting to help him, wanting to take care of him. And I think that kind of compassion is good for society, Turner said.
Timer Colen, 15, is among the Scouts in Troop 63 who helped William with the project. In all, about two dozen people showed up Saturday. Its our job to help, our moral responsibility, Timer said. If we cant help him, how can we expect to be helped?
In addition to being a Scout, William takes piano and fencing lessons. But as is the case with disabilities, he needs help with little things and must ponder his answers to questions for a while and then write them down.
All Eagle Scouts are required to do a community service project, and William said he settled on the flagpole idea after researching on the Internet.
His equally determined parents were a big part of the project, but Scout leaders say all Eagle Scouts have strong parents behind them.
Rina and William Fitzgerald Sr. were told during her pregnancy that there was a good chance William would have Down syndrome, but they refused to end the pregnancy.
I could feel my son moving inside me, Rina said. I wasnt going to give him up. Ive never regretted that decision.
The couple, who have two other children, have spent the past 15 years trying to show that William can make a place for himself in this world.
At 10 a.m. Saturday with the U.S. flag flapping 40 feet above Beatties Ford Road he proved them right.
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