By Sara Appel-Lennon
Last June, University City High School student Zac St. Louis explored volunteering options for his Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project, coming upon The Ranchero Fund, which offers medical equipment to paralyzed patients with no health insurance.
St. Louis learned that Rebecca and Neil Pollock started The Ranchero Fund after Neil Pollock became a paraplegic following a surfing accident. In lieu of wedding gifts, the couple asked for financial donations to the fund.
St. Louis said The Ranchero Fund builds and donates "slide transfer boards" to help spinal cord injury patients move from a wheelchair to a bed or car. He told his mother that if he could make 100 slide transfer boards, he would help 100 people.
Last September, St. Louis surpassed his goal by donating 120 slide transfer boards to Sharp Rehabilitation Services. He organized and led a team of Boy Scouts to create the boards to fulfill the rigors of the Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project. St. Louis has become an Eagle Scout, the highest rank in Scouting.
Annually, Sharp Healthcare staff honors a handful of former patients with the Victories of Spirit Awards because of their courage and strength in volunteering in the community after experiencing a difficult setback themselves. Dave Brown, system director of Rehabilitation Services, will present one of these awards to St. Louis at the 20th annual event on June 4 at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel.
"How many 17-year-old kids do this any more?" Brown asked. "He's a wonderful example of kids, the power of kids, and wanting to make a difference. It's quite remarkable."
Why St. Louis chose to volunteer at Sharp Healthcare became clear in an essay he wrote for his Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project. He wanted to express gratitude to Sharp staff in a tangible way for the excellent medical care his mother received after a near-fatal car accident in 2003. It was caused by a driver who failed to stop at a red light. St. Louis was in the car along with his mother and two siblings.
"I had blocked the accident out of my mind. My mom was so close to dying. It was a crazy time. ...This was my only way to give back to them for helping my mom. You can't really thank them enough for what they did," St. Louis said.
Mom Anne St. Louis added: "I'm smiling. It's all good."
Zac St. Louis devoted last summer to the project so it would not conflict with school. The work entailed getting quotes from woodworkers, buying supplies, cutting wood, sanding, applying lacquer, the logo and creating a template. He managed a team of Scouts working sanding parties in an assembly line. He did not sign his initials on any of the boards.
To raise money for the project, St. Louis made presentations to Cabrillo Club and Portuguese Social and Civic Club, where he discussed how he would help people and why he needed the money. Both groups donated $500. He needed to raise $2,500, and he raised $500 extra.
A patient who received one of the boards said: "I thought only a 'wuss' would use a transfer board. ... For almost 39 years, I never used (one.) I guess time has caught up with me; now I realize it would have been smart to use a transfer board before."