Columbia boy aims to become Eagle Scout at age 12

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Columbia Mayor Kevin Hutchinson has joined future Eagle Scout Preston Jerashen in promoting his child identification event, which takes place Sept. 27. (Robyn Dexter photo)

A young Columbia boy is seeking to educate the community about youth safety through his September Eagle Scout project.

At only 12 years old, Preston Jerashen, a member of Troop 357 in Columbia, is already planning a big event for his Eagle Scout project.

Jerashen has Asperger’s Syndome, a form of autism, but hasn’t let it get in the way of planning the perfect project.

From 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 27, Jerashen will host a Columbia Child Identification Day during the annual Kiwanis Fishing Derby at Columbia Sportsman’s Club.

“I was researching on the different projects and came across a website about child identification programs,” he said. “I wanted to do something for kids who are younger than me and have a higher chance of being abducted.”

The day will feature educational material and safety and youth protection, along with the chance to have children fingerprinted, photographed and more.

Participants do not have to be a part of the fishing derby to come to the child identification event.

Jerashen will have help from his fellow scouts, family members and church members.

In 2013, the average age of boys earning the Eagle Scout rank was 17.

“I got my confidence from my family because they told me I could do great things,” Jerashen said.

Jerashen’s mom, Dee, said she has been so impressed with how involved her son has gotten with this project.

“He’s my hero,” she said. “He’s turned his challenge into a gift because he’s very bright and very focused.”

When scouts set up an Eagle Scout project, they have to designate a beneficiary, depending on what the project is.

Columbia Mayor Kevin

Hutchinson is the beneficiary for Jerashen’s project and has been helping him along the way.

“Preston felt the beneficiary of this was the community, and so it made sense that the city council and mayor would be the beneficiary,” Hutchinson said. “Our part is very minor, but he has done a lot of research and a ton of work toward this project.”

Hutchinson is also an assistant scoutmaster for the troop, which formed seven years ago.

“I was one of the founding adults, and we’ve had 15 Eagle Scouts in seven years, which is just incredible,” Hutchinson said. “The exciting thing about having Preston is that he’s so young, yet he still has the goal. It’s been very impressive.”

As a scout, Dee said he’s gone above and beyond what is asked of him. Each year, when the scouts do Scouting For Food, he has assisted an area in Cahokia that has no one that puts out bags or picks up food.

“It’s approximately 2,000 houses, but he goes each year and puts out the bags and picks them up the next weekend,” Dee said. “Every year, he has kept that commitment.”

Jerashen looks at it simply.

“In order to be helped, you have to help,” he said.

Jerashen has been communicating with Illinois Child Identification Program, which is sponsored by the Masonic organization.

“I contacted the Masons and asked for some ID kits, which contains about everything I need for this project,” he said.

He’s put in hours of phone conversations with the Masons, the Kiwanis organization, Mayor Hutchinson and Columbia Chief of Police Joe Edwards.

Jerashen has also come up with posters that will be put in area schools.

“I’ve set my expectations high because I’ve heard how many kids are going to be at the derby,” Jerashen said.

He said he hopes the event is both educational and demonstrative of the helpfulness of scouts.

“Even if you do have mental disabilities, you can accomplish anything,” he said.

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