Brandon Walkush is on the cusp of becoming an Eagle Scout, and the community service project he is completing to accomplish that achievement is lending a helping hand to Inver Grove Heights kids and families in the process.
As part of his push for Eagle Scout status, Walkush, 16, started the Special Olympics Young Athletes program in Inver Grove Heights. The program gives young children with and without disabilities an opportunity to participate in various skill-building activities that boost social skills and athletics.
Designed for children ages 2-7, the free, eight-week program is held from 6-7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays at . It's the first Eagle Scout project of this kind in Minnesota, said Brandon's mother, Sherry Walkush, who is one of many volunteers and parents who assist with the program, which ends this year on July 21.
"This means a lot to the parents and kids because it gives the kids a fun positive environment to learn basic skills like balance, catching, throwing and hitting a ball," said Sherry Walkush. "It also gives them a social environment and gives the parents a network of other parents to talk to. One of its goals is to have kids without disabilities grow familiar with kids with disabilities."
This type of program is also a great starting point for kids to learn basic skills before they participate in a sports programs such as the Special Olympics, she added.
The program also has special meaning for Brandon, his mother Sherry and father Bob. Brandon's brother, Charlie Rea, is a Special Olympics Athlete with the South Region Stars Team. Brandon has been involved in Special Olympics with his brother and other athletes in swimming, tennis and table tennis. He has helped coach athletes and cheer his brother on.
"I've been around Special Olympics my whole life," said Brandon. "I thought this program would be a great community service project and at the same time it was something I am proud to be a part of. You see the kids grow, you seem them expand their horizons, it's really neat to see."
The fact that Brandon took on a project of this nature is not surprising to Randy Sampson, the scout master for Troop 9507, which includes kids from Inver Grove Heights, South Saint Paul and Eagan.
“One thing that’s always impressive to me is to see a Boy Scout or young man take the initiative to be involved with a project that directly provides assistance to young people,” says Sampson. “Brandon has a passion for that. I think of the many projects I've seen in last 20 years of scouting, this is one of the more involved projects that directly interacts with kids in such a unique manner.”
Bob Walkush has watched his son Brandon grow through the opportunities and projects he’s been involved with as a Boy Scout.
"He's always been active in scouts," he said. “Through it all, I've seen him grow as a person. He's shown good leadership skills and now this is the final project, the big one, and I think he's doing great. He could have chosen any number of projects but I think this means a lot to him with his background in Special Olympics. I'm very proud of him."
Cathy Johnston has a son who passed away from complications from Down syndrome when he was one year old in 1990. She started helping with Special Olympics in 1991 and hasn't stopped. She also coaches the South Region Stars with the Walkush family and is a volunteer with the Young Athletes program. She sees a great future with what Brandon has started.
"I think it's a great opportunity for these kids and their siblings and parents to get an opportunity to know what Special Olympics can be all about," said Johnston. "These are beautiful children that we need to do whatever we can to help them grow and exceed expectations. With Brandon beginning this program and making the community aware there is a program like this, it's only going to grow and could be a huge success.”