BY REBECCA ISENHART
LOUDONVILLE — Niskayuna High School senior Chris Sullivan recently discovered how much work and complexity often goes into things that appear elegantly simple.
Like a staircase or an Eagle Scout service project, for example.
“It wasn’t that easy,” Sullivan said of his Eagle project, the culmination of a scouting experience that began when he was in first grade.
Several of his friends stayed in the program with him until high school graduation, and they helped each other with various initiatives, like a new bike path bridge in the Niskayuna woods, a structure to help dog owners stay cool and dry at the Niskayuna dog park and other projects that will be visible in the boys’ hometown for years.
But at first, Sullivan’s idea was different: He wanted to collect school supplies for local kids whose families struggle to afford them. That idea morphed into a food drive for the Schenectady City Mission. But when Sullivan presented the plan to his scoutmaster, he was told it wouldn’t meet requirements.
“He wanted me to do a project that would leave more of an impact,” Sullivan said. “They want you to orchestrate something and lead something yourself.”
It would have been OK if he had established a recurring, annual food drive or planned something completely from scratch, without the help of the City Mission. So Sullivan looked at another place where he’s done a lot of service work over the years: Loudonville Community Church, which his parents started attending before he was born. Sullivan has been a youth group member there since about middle school.
Bruce Baker, facilities manager for the church and its associated school, finally helped Sullivan identify the right direction for his Eagle project: a new staircase that would make it easier to climb from the parking lot of the church to a raised field where modified baseball and softball games are often played. The previous staircase was a collection of railroad ties cut into the earth with a simple pipe railing.
“I worked with him right from the beginning,” Baker said.
He knew Sullivan not just from youth group, but also from a core leadership group of students that meets weekly with adults at the church, including Baker, to help guide the faith community’s plans.
Sullivan didn’t know much about building when he started, though he said he feels more empowered now to try his own projects. Baker and Sullivan’s uncle, who is an engineer, helped with design and educating volunteers who weren’t sure how the staircase should go together.
Even though fundraising, planning, getting an idea approved and gathering volunteers were difficult tasks, Sullivan said the toughest part was leading others while simultaneously learning himself. He had plenty of help, though, including his parents, his 15-year-old sister, Rachel, and his Eagle Scout and youth group friends, a total of about 20 volunteers. All told, Sullivan calculated everyone combined to put in about 190 hours of labor on the project.
Sullivan and his sister appreciated the importance of sprucing up the sports field, since both run competitively (Sullivan runs cross-country and track). But even without that connection, the Eagle Scout said creating something that took so much work was satisfying.
“I can know that this was something I initiated,” he said. “I never knew how complex a staircase could be.”
After graduation, Sullivan is leaning toward attending SUNY Buffalo to major in biology, so he can one day become a doctor. But his experiences as an Eagle Scout and at his church promise to stick with him, too. He says he’ll seek out Christian groups on campus, as well as other ways to volunteer.