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Packed with Care

To fulfill Eagle Scout requirements, Burke Scout fills backpacks with items for foster children.

Tony Olivieri began thinking about his Eagle Scout project a long time ago. It’s the only thing he must complete before earning his Eagle Scout rank, so he wanted to make sure he chose something he could be proud of.

An Eagle Scout project must demonstrate leadership qualities among those who complete it. Some Boy Scouts choose to help improve county parks by assisting in construction projects or rehabilitation and clean-up efforts. Tony wanted his project to have a more direct beneficiary.

“I wanted to do something that helped specific people, instead of just building something,” said Tony, a 17-year-old senior at Lake Braddock Secondary School.

Tony has been in Troop 1100 since he was about 11. Before that, he was a Cub Scout. He said he has enjoyed the many different experiences he’s had as a Scout, and is looking forward to earning his last rank of Eagle Scout.

Tony has been thinking about his project for about two or three years, he said. This summer, he set a goal for himself. He wanted to fill 50 backpacks with toiletries, pajamas and school supplies to give to Fairfax-area foster children.

“My Eagle advisor had told me about how [foster children] move around a lot from house to house, so I thought it would be a good idea to do backpacks.”

TONY ENLISTED the help of the Church of the Nativity in Burke. He put up flyers and a church bulletin for donations of supplies and money. The overwhelming support helped Tony more than double his goal.

“I didn’t think the community would be that outgoing, especially over the summer,” said Tony.

“We filled a conference room with these backpacks,” said Carolyn Fowler, program manager for the Fairfax County Foster Care and Adoption Program.

Tony called the county office early last year, said Rosa Suau, his project sponsor at the county's foster care program. Since foster children are often brought into a home with just the clothes on their back, Fowler said the backpacks give them a sense of ownership. Tony added a stuffed animal to each backpack to give the children something more exciting to find inside.

"It's something fun," said Suau, about the toys and stuffed animals. "Those are comforting things."

“Each one is very carefully packed with all new items,” said Belinda Buescher, spokeswoman for the Fairfax County Department of Family Services. “They brought 105 beautiful backpacks; they’re just amazing.”

Suau said she was amazed at how meticulous Tony was with the backpacks. The toiletries and school supplies were all seperated into Ziplock bags, she said, "it really was impressive." Even more importantly, Suau said Tony helped create more awareness about the foster program. There are about 450 children in county foster care, and resources are limited, especially clothing resources. Suau said only about $300 is alotted per year for clothing expenses, so projects like Tony's are so helpful.

"That's why it's so important to get support from the community," said Suau. "We are very grateful."

The foster program will likely distribute the backpacks to new foster children as they enter the program. In the past, volunteers have helped the program with a donation drive for suitcases, but this is the first time someone has handled a donation like this one, said Fowler. The bags were already packed when they arrived, something Fowler said was appreciated among the foster program staff. She especially liked the stuffed animal that Tony added to each pack, since she said it gave the children something fun to hold onto. Some packs were meant for older children, said Buescher, and the items inside represented the age for the children they were packed for.

“Those things mean a lot to these children; it’s something new and it’s their own,” said Fowler.

Tony’s project may have been a requirement for his Scout rank, but both Buescher and Fowler said he exuded generosity and sincerity. He took the time to thoughtfully pack the items, and showed leadership along the way.

“As he started talking [about the project], his eyes lit up,” said Buescher.

“It’s a very sweet expression of kindness,” said Fowler. “He is a remarkable individual in our community who really cares.”