Overland Park & Leawood

Adults with disabilities get fruits of Eagle Scout’s labor

Residents of a Johnson County home for disabled adults have a new garden meant to engage their minds and help fill their plates, thanks to the work of a 15-year-old Boy Scout.

Jeremiah Kemper, a Mill Valley High School student, got in touch with Johnson County Developmental Supports as he looked for people who might benefit from an Eagle project he was planning. The agency connected him with its Switzer House in Lenexa.

“He has a cousin who has Down syndrome, so doing something for Switzer House is something he became passionate about very quickly,” said Beth Kemper, Jeremiah’s mom.

Mike Eubanks, a direct support professional who works with the six residents at Switzer House, wanted to install a garden to help the residents with sensory stimulation. That can help keep conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, from worsening.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s cause the brain “to degenerate. The wiring is lost. If you can build new pathways … you can make it last longer,” Eubanks said.

Jeremiah put together a proposal for the Boy Scouts that expanded on Eubanks’ original plan and detailed costs, materials and volunteer labor. Eubanks said he was impressed with Jeremiah’s planning.

The result was “something that is far greater and better than I would have put together,” Eubanks said.

The new project included three raised planters for gardening. One is 10 feet by two feet, and the other two are eight feet by two feet. All are about 30 inches tall.

With experience from an engineering class at school and some help from his grandpa and his dad, Tony Kemper, Jeremiah figured out the materials and design he would use. Then he asked family and friends for donations and raised about $1,000 for the project.

The money was enough to pay for the garden project Jeremiah had planned as well as for a garden at another JCDS house.

“He learned a lot as far as planning and coordinating with other people, because he was in charge of telling people what to do,” said Beth Kemper.

Jeremiah and other boys from Troop 93 in Shawnee built the planters in Jeremiah’s driveway with some adult help, then transported them to Switzer House. Altogether, there were 14 volunteers on each of the two work days.

Owen Lumber in Lee’s Summit provided materials at a discount, and an anonymous donor provided flowers for the boys to plant with help from the residents.

“They really got into it, and the residents’ families were there. They got right in there and dug in … it was really a neat day,” Beth Kemper said.

Eubanks said it was nice to see the boys getting to know the Switzer House residents.

“(The residents) were so excited about working with them and helping them plant plants. Several of the young people in the scouting group came right back and said, ‘We’d like to do projects (with JCDS),” Eubanks said. “This is the first seed of a long relationship with the community.”

The next day, the residents were eagerly caring for their new flowerbeds, Eubanks said.

“One of our people is non-vocal. She uses big hand expression to show (the garden) is growing, and it’s going to get big and get pretty,” Eubanks said.

He hopes to plant a variety of things in the garden as stimuli. These include lamb’s ear, which has fuzzy leaves, herbs with different scents, and vegetables the residents can nurture and then pick to eat with their dinners.

“Every day from our kitchen table, they get to watch nature unfold in their backyard. It gives them such a bigger stimulus,” said Eubanks. “It is totally a positive thing. Not only will it make these residents happy, but future residents will benefit from growing things.”