A safe urban place for children

Boy Scout Benjamin Thompson

It was a perfect mix.

Boy Scout Benjamin Thompson was looking for an Eagle Scout project that would make a difference in his community.

Somebody Cares New England and the Community Christian Fellowship were looking to protect children in an urban area where cars sometimes come dangerously close to them.

They found common ground to the benefit the entire neighborhood, especially children who attend the Somebody Cares food pantry and church. The result was an outdoor recreation area that is fenced in to protect kids from vehicles that often pull into and out of a parking lot next door.

"As much good as this place does for the community, they are entirely funded by donations and therefore do not have the money to make such an improvement to their space, which is another reason I chose them," Benjamin said. "I am not doing this project for me, but for my community."

Benjamin has put in a lot of time over the past three years volunteering at the food pantry run by Somebody Cares New England and Community Christian Fellowship in the city's Mount Washington neighborhood.

He said the two intertwined organizations are very important parts of the community.

"It helps feed our neighbors and is a safe place for people to bring their children or just to gather," he said. "We have been told that rival gangs are able to bring their kids there and that they all respect the space because of how much help it provides to the community. Additionally, Neighborhood Watch meetings are also held at this location."

Located in the former Scatamacchia Funeral Home at 358 Washington St., the home of the organizations is overseen by Pastor Marlene Yeo.

With an eye toward achieving the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest rank in Scouting, Benjamin, a member of Troop 1 in Haverhill, asked Yeo what he could do for an Eagle Scout project to benefit the pantry and the church. 

Yeo told him it might be too large a project, but what was really needed was an outdoor picnic and recreation area where Somebody Cares could host children’s summer programs, youth outreach programs, neighborhood block parties and fundraisers.

Yeo told him the most important thing would be to fence in the area because it is next to a busy parking lot. She told him that a fence would provide a safe area for children who come to the food pantry and the church.

Benjamin, 17, of Bradford is a graduate of Hunking Middle School and a junior in the electrical program at Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School.

After gaining the approval of Scout leaders, Benjamin began raising money and gathering donations of materials for the project. Months of planning and design work culminated in several weekends of labor by Benjamin and many volunteers, with final work on the project done Oct. 18. 

Before he could launch the project, Benjamin went before City Council and asked it to waive the building permit fee, which the council approved unanimously.

"Every penny we saved counted," he said.

Benjamin's work as a volunteer at the food pantry involves small tasks such as breaking down cardboard boxes for recycling and carrying bags to the cars of families picking up groceries.

His job as project director for the outdoor recreation area was to oversee the work of friends, relatives and fellow Scouts, but he also put in a fair amount of labor as well.

Renovations to the area began the last weekend of September and included building a chain-link fence around the perimeter of the grassy area behind the building. 

Benjamin and his volunteers dug fence-post holes by hand and dug up other areas before laying down stone gravel to set picnic tables on. 

"I also landscaped the remaining area with bushes, flower beds and benches for additional seating," he said. 

Yeo told The Eagle-Tribune that Thompson's project has resulted in a safe recreational area for children and adults.

"The response from volunteers, the funds that have been raised and the work that's been done have been amazing," Yeo said.

Local businesses got behind the project. They included the Groveland Fence Company, which provided the posts and chain-link fencing and is building four gates. Benjamin said the company also provided several workers to make sure the fence was installed correctly.

Spring Hill Garden Center provided and delivered recycled asphalt and bushes for landscaping, while Barker’s Farm donated all the mulch that was needed.

Benjamin also received donations of two park benches from Lowe's Home Improvement in Salem, N.H., and donations of a dozen 80-pound bags of concrete and dozens of bulbs for planting from Home Depot in Salem, N.H.

Any donated money that is left over will go into an account to maintain the space for the future, he said.

"We had no idea that we'd receive this many donations so quickly," he said. "It meant we didn't have to fund raise as much as we thought we would."

His recipe for a neighborhood recreation area

Chain-link fence around the perimeter

Picnic tables and benches

Stone gravel as a base for the tables and benches

Bushes and flower beds to dress up the area

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