Project Eagle raises awareness of organ donation on Utah’s roads and highways

Catcher McCardell stands in front of the Utah Capitol. (Courtesy of Melissa Majchrzak)

The road to an Eagle Scout service project can start anywhere. It could even start on a real road.

Last year, Catcher McCardell was on a family vacation in Colorado when he embarked on a timeless hobby: seeing how many types of license plates he could spot.

One in particular caught his attention. He said, “Give the gift of life: be an organ donor. A quick search on his phone led Catcher to realize that his home state of Utah was do not one of the 28 states with a special plaque promoting organ donation.

Right there in the car, a plan was worked out.

For his Eagle Scout service project, Catcher and the boy scouts and adults he led went through the complexities of state government to help bring Utah its first “Donate Life” license plate, which raise awareness of the critical need for organ, eye and tissue donors.

“I don’t think I knew how much work this project would be when I first came up with the idea,” Catcher told Bryan on Boy Scouting. “Once I started I just had to keep going. People are literally dying while waiting for an organ transplant, so I just had to learn to do and do hard things.

Catcher is a 14-year-old Life Scout with Troop 34 of the Crossroads of the West Council, which serves Scouts in Utah, Southern Idaho and Western Wyoming.

We caught up with Catcher and his Scoutmaster assistant mom Michelle to find out more.

An idea is formed

Catcher had the right question: why doesn’t Utah have a license plate promoting organ donation?

Now he had to find the answers. Each state has its own method of suggesting a new specialty plate, whether it’s a plate celebrating a local sports team, raising awareness for an important cause, or even supporting the Boy Scouts of America.

Catcher’s mother, who works at the University of Utah Hospital, introduced Catcher to Allyson Gamble, a heart transplant recipient and executive director of the Utah State Capitol Preservation Board.

Gamble then connected Catcher with Utah State Representative Paul Ray.

Catcher spoke to Ray about the need for more organ donors, including some sobering statistics like this: Every day 17 people die while waiting for an organ transplant.

“People of all ages can be affected by organ, eye and tissue donation, and I’ve seen how donation can help others,” says Catcher. “It seems like everyone should be an organ donor.”

Convinced, Ray agreed to sponsor the bill needed to create a special Donate Life plate.

Sadly, Gamble passed away a few weeks after meeting Catcher. This tragic turning point only intensified Catcher’s desire to make the license plate a reality.

“I had to lead meetings with different organizations, talk to members of the Utah legislature, and work closely with adults I didn’t know,” Catcher says. “I was very lucky to have amazing Scout leaders to guide me through some of the more difficult things like speaking in public and giving press conferences. It really taught me how to lead my troop and learn to work with others.

In February 2021, the bill (HB 272) was passed unanimously in the Utah Senate and the Utah House of Representatives. In a touching tribute, the bill also renamed the state organ donation fund “the Allyson Gamble Contribution Fund for Organ Donation.”

HB 272 was signed by the governor a month later. There is one last step before the license plate becomes official: 500 Utahns must make a purchase request a plate.

Courtesy of Michelle McCardell

What he learned

Catcher says this whole process taught him to be a more confident public speaker, and it helped him understand the steps required to pass a bill.

“I’m not sure I need to introduce a bill to the state again, but it should help me with history and government lessons in the future,” he says.

To other Scouts who want to think big when planning their own Eagle projects, Catcher says he’s got your back.

“Just set your goals and stick to them,” he says. “Scouting teaches children how to be a better person and how to try and accomplish difficult things. “

And if your goal is to bring a Donate Life license plate to your state, go for it! Visit this blog post on Scouting Plates and scroll down to the section called “Special License Plates”. Click on the name of your state to learn more about specialty plaques in your state.

A few words from mom

Michelle McCardell remembers feeling mixed emotions when Catcher pitched the idea for her project.

“I was glad he had an idea and was a little nervous about the scale of the idea, knowing that many legislative ideas don’t even get to the governor’s office for signature,” she says. .

But the cause was one she knew too important to pass up.

“Organ, eye and tissue donation can improve the quality of life and save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who are waiting for a second chance at life,” she says.

Michelle watched with pride as Catcher completed the project – a process that required her to learn patience.

“In today’s world, everyone expects everything to happen immediately,” she says. “Catcher had to create a timeline and stick to it, and when a bump in the road presented itself, he had to come up with a plan to get around that bump.”

And while the Catcher Project made headlines statewide, Michelle doesn’t think that’s the only factor that determines whether an Eagle Project was worth it.

“Every project, whether big or small, is just as important,” she says. “The most important thing is to find a project that means something to you and your community and to be passionate about it. “

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