Lake Eary learned something important from his time with several West Virginia University football players: In many ways, he’s just like them, even though he’s confined to a wheelchair and never taken a step.
It was just one important moment in a day full of them last week as about 90 Mountaineers trekked to Summersville to participate in the Reaching the Summit Community Service Initiative the largest community service effort of its kind in U.S. history. The project was held in connection with Boy Scouts who were in southern West Virginia for the 2013 National Scout Jamboree.
Six-year-old Lake was born with spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disease that attacks nerve cells in the spinal cord.
He’s had surgery on his back twice to fix scoliosis; he has never walked.
Though none of the Mountaineers visiting Nicholas County on Friday had undergone quite the hardships of little Lake, they still connected with the soon-to-be first-grader.
“One player showed him his knee that was operated on a couple months ago,” Lake’s father, John, said. “I was able to say to my son that having surgery doesn’t mean you are small or weak. He liked that.”
Players arrived at Summersville Elementary School and the Summersville Community Center to cut grass, paint walls and fences and apply tape to the gym floor. They worked hand-in-hand with two Boy Scout troops from Los Angeles.
But most of all, the players were there to put smiles on faces.
“I was really surprised by how several of the guys took to my son,” said Eary, a 1987 WVU graduate and a financial services business owner in Summersville. “There were several of them who just kept coming to him and talking to him and shaking his hand. Some of them asked me to take their picture with him on their phones.
“They were an inspiration to him and I think in some way he was an inspiration to some of them.”
Former WVU running back Quincy Wilson, who is now assistant director of football operations for the team, said the Mountaineer baseball team helped set a standard for pitching in to communities when players reached out to Oklahoma tornado victims in May.
“The baseball team kind of started that in Oklahoma,” Wilson said. “We’ve been pushing service. We’re doing more with the Children’s Hospital and with speaking at camps and festivals.”
Friday’s trip also opened players’ eyes to realize that Mountaineer country exists in every pocket of West Virginia.
“It’s blue and gold everywhere here,” Wilson said. “The players can see that now. It’s not enough to tell someone that they love WVU all over the state. Showing it to them is something special.”
Football players weren’t the only WVU representatives in Nicholas County that day.
Five students from the P.I. Reed School of Journalism served as interns for the initiative by assisting news media and coordinating activities at the site.
Daniel Edwards, a senior public relations major, drove throughout nine southern West Virginia counties last week collecting signatures from various county commissioners for a proclamation to acknowledge the service project.
Brittany Levinski, also a public relations student, said she and her colleagues are sending out social media blasts, tweets and Instagram photos from the event.
-Assistant director, football operations
“I’ve never had an internship this hands-on,” she said. “We’re treated like we’re part of the communications staff and not just interns.”
The Initiative includes a group of community leaders from those nine counties (Fayette, Greenbrier, McDowell, Mercer, Monroe, Nicholas, Raleigh, Summers and Wyoming). The Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia is the clearinghouse for the Initiative, which was set to deploy up to 40,000 Scouts and thousands of additional youth volunteers to perform more than 300,000 hours of community service over a five-day period.
“The Reaching the Summit Community Service Initiative is the single largest outreach event of its kind,” said Aly Goodwin Gregg, volunteer communications director for the Initiative. “WVU and Coach (Dana) Holgorsen came to us. They wanted to help. They’re doing their own project, using their own energy and labor. They’re being leaders, which is what we expect from WVU. Them giving back to the state is a shining example of WVU’s role as a land-grant institution.”
The community service involvement is one just element of WVU’s participating on the Scout Jamboree. The University is also sponsoring three main attractions: A forensic science tent, a cycling station and a zipline.
“Our participation is part of our land-grant mission of public outreach,” said Gerald Lang, of WVU Research, who is overseeing the University’s involvement. “We should be present and we are going to be present, in a dominant way.
“And while we’re there, we hope these Scouts, who are coming to West Virginia from all over the country, will consider West Virginia University when it’s time to pick a college.”
By Jake Stump
CONTACT: University Relations/News
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