David Brown relishes the challenge of helping people. All Boy Scouts do. It comes with the territory.
But when the 15-year-old Poly High School sophomore told Scoutmaster Fred Curns that for his Eagle Scout project he would throw a fund-raising dinner for the Long Beach Pool for the Handicapped, his friends were skeptical. He hoped to raise $2,500, he said, and would ask Olympic gymnast Peter Vidmar to be the guest speaker.
At the time even his mother, Kay, had doubts.
He was already balancing a schedule filled with accelerated college prep courses, practice for both jazz ensemble and church choir, music lessons and church seminars. But Brown's goal will be reached March 20 at the California Heights United Methodist Church in Long Beach.
The spaghetti dinner is $7 for adults and $5 for children. And the guest speaker? Peter Vidmar.
"Lots of your Scouts take the easy way out and write an essay or go dig up some trees somewhere," Curns said. "But David's idea is quite unusual. He came up with this all by himself. I'm very proud of him."
Described as "exceptional," "a go-getter" and "hard worker," Brown chose to benefit the Pool for the Handicapped because of its role in rehabilitating his 5-year-old sister, Carolyn, after she had surgery last summer to correct problems associated with cerebral palsy. He learned about the center from its director of operations, Joe King, who approached the Browns about using the pool for Carolyn.
As the oldest of five children, Brown spent several days a week last summer with his sister at the swimming facility, an inconspicuous building at the corner of 68th Street and Long Beach Boulevard. The pool, opened in 1963 and enclosed in 1977, is free to the handicapped. Because it receives no state or federal money, all of its $200,000 budget comes from donations and fund-raisers. Brown wants money from his benefit spent on brochures to publicize the center.
Carolyn was confined to a wheelchair and in considerable discomfort from the surgery when her family first took her to the pool in August. The first few times in the water she was lowered onto a submerged ramp in the pool and remained in the wheelchair. In the months since, her improvement has been dramatic, and the Browns credit the pool. Today, when she strolls into the center, her gait appears normal and her swimming ability rivals others her age.
Doing something for the pool center, which was doing so much for his sister, intrigued Brown. The dinner plan came to him one night as he was doing homework in his Bixby Knolls home, he said. Vidmar was the perfect complement for the evening. Like Brown, Vidmar is a Mormon. Brown has followed his career through church publications. Vidmar has also been active in a senior Scouting program, and Brown admits he came to idolize him. His appearance would be a natural. Brown reached Vidmar in Irvine through acquaintances, and in a simple phone call asked the personable gold-medalist to be the dinner's headliner.
"I wanted to do something worthwhile for my Eagle Scout," he said. "I wanted it to be a lot of work so I would feel glad about it when it was over."
And a lot of work it has been. Frustrating too, although both Curns and Brown agree the teen-ager has matured intellectually in solving the day-to-day problems. For instance, after months of negotiating with Vidmar for an available date, the pair agreed on a Friday night. Two weeks before the event Vidmar cancelled, saying the date conflicted with "some TV work" he had just agreed to do. That forced a postponement, which included reprinting all tickets and promotional flyers for the event.
"If there is one thing I've learned, it's to get a written contract next time," Brown said with a touch of humor.
Brown said that by using experience gained through organizing and speaking at church functions, he had already raised by mid-February about one-third of the money he hopes to get.
By seeking financial donations from businesses, personally selling advertising for the dinner program and enlisting the help of friends, Brown said, he hoped to gain "leadership skills" that will help him become a better adult.
Curns said: "There are a lot of kids out there, I'll bet, that would want to be like David. He's doing things I wouldn't have considered doing when I was a boy.
"I'm very proud of him. He should be very proud of himself. He never turns anything down. If I give the boy an assignment, I have no doubt it will be done and done right. I believe he will be a big success."