Local Eagle Scout honors the founder of the Special Olympics and its athletes.
Wyatt Bowman may be a 14-year-old freshman at Winter Park High School, but he has something in common with Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the iconic founder of the Special Olympics. Like Eunice, Wyatt believes in the spirit and the souls of those who have special needs, and he’s committed to helping them pursue their dreams.
So when it came time for Wyatt, a Scout with Troop 205 in his hometown of Maitland, to choose an Eagle Scout Service Project, it was of little surprise to those who know him best that he wanted to honor Eunice and the Special Olympics. His idea was to construct a permanent tree-shaded bench for Camp Shriver, the summertime camp for special-needs athletes hosted every year at Winter Park High. Wyatt envisioned a resting place for the athletes, away from the hot Florida summer sun, adorned with a plaque in honor of Eunice.
“I was thinking that I wanted to do a tribute,” says Wyatt, a Camp Shriver volunteer.
During the Camp’s outdoor activities, the tree’s shade has long been a popular place for taking a break, but it wasn’t a spot that offered much comfort.
“There was nothing but a rusty old bench,” Wyatt explains.
Last month, Special Olympians, fellow Scouts, volunteers, and Camp Shriver personnel came together to dedicate the Eagle Scout project on the grounds of WPHS and thank Wyatt for his support.
Camp Shriver has called the high school its home every summer since 2010. The original Camp Shriver was founded by Eunice at her home in 1964. Eunice’s idea would eventually evolve into the Special Olympics, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.
After sketching out his plans and “actually using geometry for the first time,” Wyatt chuckles, he created a drawing of a bench that circled the circumference of the Live Oak tree. To make his idea come to fruition, Wyatt needed to raise an estimated $1,200 for materials. Before he was done, he raised $2,400.
“Everyone was so generous,” says Wyatt’s mom, Jenny Bowman, director of marketing for AdventHealth. “People loved the idea of what he was doing.”
The build took two days with the help of Wyatt’s dad, Andy, and four other Scouts from Troop 205. The seats and backs of the bench are made from durable composite, while pressure-treated wood braces support the structure.
Laurie Chmielewski, the training director for Special Olympics Florida - Orange County, who runs Camp Shriver, says she is honored that Wyatt would choose the camp for his project.
“Wyatt is an outstanding young man,” says Laurie, a 36-year veteran of Special Olympics. “All of the kids enjoy coming here to spend time with the Special Olympics athletes. Some, though, take on more responsibility and rise to the top like Wyatt. He has made such an impression on me. It makes my heart so warm that Wyatt knows our needs and chose this place.”
“I wanted to build something and thought about what the camp needed most,” Wyatt explains. “It was the first and only place that came to mind.”
All about Family
Wyatt began volunteering at Camp Shriver the summer before fifth grade at age 10. He got the idea from his sister, Reilly, now 16, a junior at WPHS who also started volunteering at the Camp in the fifth grade.
Jenny says her kids always have such great stories about their experiences at the camp, and they have learned valuable lessons on how to communicate with those who may have trouble doing so.
Wyatt says the extra funds he raised paid for the dedication ceremony, and the balance was donated to Laurie and the Special Olympics. And Laurie knows exactly what to do with the windfall.
“I am going to buy more swimming vests,” she says, noting how much the Special Olympians enjoy Winter Park High’s pool on summer days.
With a new bench for respite and added swimming gear, Laurie is already getting excited about this summer’s camp.
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“Sports is a common playing field,” she explains. “We all get to know each other. We laugh, dance, and are silly with each other.”