NKAWKAW, Ghana — Sporting a Boy Scout uniform and a broad smile, 13-year-old Stanford Ballard stood in front of dozens of happy, energetic Ghanaian school children at the Empower Academy as part of an ambitious Eagle Scout Project that has become a Ballard family tradition.
Numerous bins filled with books and other school supplies donated by people back home in Utah were stacked up next to him, with some books displayed for the children to see.
One of the many books was titled “Let’s Make a Snowman!”
Considering that Ghana is located in a tropical climate, a book about snow could provide an opportunity to broaden the horizons of the children.
Stanford explained to the children that he collected these items that he had brought from the United States in hopes that it would enhance their education.
When Stanford finished his presentation with some words from the native Ghanaian language of Twi, the children cheered. Stanford’s dad, Craig, standing nearby, smiled.
Later, to celebrate the arrival of their friends from the United States, and the generous gifts, the children performed musical numbers and cultural dances in colorful attire.
The Ballards, and others representing the Forever Young Foundation — which helped facilitate the Eagle project — played games with the children, talked with them and took countless photos.
“Getting to know the kids was fun,” Stanford said. “They’re all so loving and great. You just want to take them all home with you.”
Just days earlier last July, Stanford had traveled about 7,000 miles from his home in North Salt Lake to the capital city of Accra with more than 2,500 pounds of supplies that he had collected.
The Ballards provided donations to three different schools in Ghana during their trip.
Stanford was the fourth of Craig and Melissa Ballard’s four sons to fulfill an Eagle Scout project in Ghana through the Forever Young Foundation. In the beginning, it was not something the Ballards planned on doing with each of their boys, but it worked out that way.
“I wanted to come here because all of my brothers have been here,” Stanford said. “They’ve all said how great Ghana is and how great the people are. I wanted to meet them and be able to help them out.”
What made this latest trip even more memorable is that the eldest of the Ballard’s sons, Truman, who was the first to do his Eagle project in Ghana, has been serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ghana.
The mission president gave permission for Craig and Stanford to work alongside Truman for a few days as part of their visit.
“That,” Stanford said, “was the highlight for me.”
This Eagle project tradition began in 2007 while Craig visited Ghana on business. When he learned of some of the needs at the local schools, he and Truman decided it might be an ideal Eagle project. Then Bowen, Brigham and Stanford followed in their brother’s footsteps and did their Eagle projects in Ghana. Each of the boys was 13 years old when he traveled to Ghana with his dad.
While the children at the various schools in Ghana certainly have benefited, the projects have benefited the Ballards as well.
“It’s made an impact on me,” Craig said. “My theory was, we know people here, and you know what you’re doing is going to good use. You’re not giving it to some organization and hoping something good happens. I encouraged my sons to get their Eagle Scout projects done early because it gets harder and harder as they get older. If they did it, we’d make it a special experience.”
Craig and Melissa hoped to teach their children some important lessons about gratitude and humility along the way.
“There’s a two-fold message,” Craig explained. “At 13, it’s all about them: 'When do I get this or that?' Then they come out here and they realize, ‘You know, I’m incredibly blessed.’ They also learn to appreciate the value of hard work and see the fruits of their labor. When they see the joy in the kids’ eyes, they get to see the service rendered and the value that it adds. At least you hope they get it. That’s the theory.”
Years after his Eagle project, Truman received a full-time mission call to Ghana, and he will finish up his service soon. “He was bouncing off the walls when he got his call,” Craig said.
As with most Eagle projects, there was plenty of planning, hard work and long hours. These four projects began with three suitcases of school supplies that Truman gathered and delivered in 2007.
“We did it with Truman, and it was such a positive experience. Then Bowen wanted to do it,” Craig said. “With Stanford, I told him we could go to Peru or other places. He said, ‘No, I want to go to Ghana.’ Brigham, like his brothers, got all teary-eyed when he said goodbye to the Ghanaian children upon delivering his project. None of my boys wanted to leave. They wanted to stay for another week. It’s a unique experience. They see that these Ghanaian children have hardly anything yet they have smiles on their faces. That Xbox game suddenly doesn’t mean very much when you see how grateful these children are for books.”
Bowen took his turn in 2009, and he took 300 pounds of school supplies in suitcases that included books, posters, and classroom sets of math and reading supplies that were mostly donated by businesses.
By the time Brigham, who went to Ghana in 2011, and Stanford worked on their projects, the Ballards had the process figured out.
“We got smarter the more we did it,” Craig said. “We started low-key with our first son. After that, we had the organizations, like the Forever Young Foundation, and they established needs at the different schools. People are generous. We got bins and bins of school supplies. All donations.”
They dropped off large donation boxes at various elementary schools at the end of May, two weeks before the end of the school year.
Teachers responded by donating reading books, flashcards, posters, math books, reading and math flashcards, music sets, soccer balls, science books, dictionaries, calculators and educational-related media, including VHS tapes, DVDs and CDs.
The Ballards picked up the donations a week after school ended. Then they spent nearly two months organizing troop members, friends and family to sort and pack the supplies in bins — a generous donor purchased Rubbermaid bins from Wal-Mart — in the Ballards’ garage and family room. That took several hours a day.
“It’s more time than your average Eagle Scout project,” Craig said.
The Ballards wanted the children in Ghana to know that a 13-year-old had worked hard to provide these supplies to them, so they created labels for each item, letting the recipient know that they were “donated by friends in North Salt Lake, Utah, USA for the Boy Scouts of America Eagle Project of Stanford Ballard, age 13.”
Richard Koomson, the main director of Empower School, appreciates the efforts of the Ballards and the Forever Young Foundation.
“They bring us books and help us in many ways,” he said.
Sterling Tanner, president of the Forever Young Foundation, knows all four Ballard boys, and he traveled with three of them to Ghana to deliver the supplies they collected.
“It has certainly been wonderful to see the Ballard family so fully give their hearts to Ghana through these Eagle Projects,” Tanner said. “It was gratifying to see the growth in these young men as they served their fellow man. It was equally gratifying to witness the appreciation of the Ghanaians, to see their gratitude as they understood that people half a world away cared enough about them to share their time and resources with them. The blessing of a project like this is two-fold. First, the value of the school and medical supplies cannot be overestimated when you consider how little these schools and children are accustomed to having. Second, the pride and confidence that accrue to the staff and children of these schools is substantial — they feel special and important, knowing that people from the U.S. have chosen them to be the recipient of their benevolence. Forever Young is honored to be able to play a small part in helping to facilitate these projects.”
While all four sons have earned their Eagle Scout awards, the Ballards continue to serve in a variety of ways.
Originally, the Ballard family — including two daughters, Mary Katharine and Eliza, ages 12 and 10 — planned to travel to Ghana this summer.
Those plans were put on hold, however, four months ago, when Craig and Melissa Ballard were called to serve in the Oregon Portland Mission of the LDS Church for the next three years. Craig Ballard will serve as mission president.
Four of the six Ballard children will be going to Oregon. Bowen will soon be leaving to serve in the Chile Santiago West Mission, and Truman will attend the University of Utah when he returns home from his mission.
At some point, the Ballards would love to go to Ghana as a family.
Mary Katharine and Eliza are hoping to do their own project for the children in Ghana and carry on the Ballard family tradition.
“My daughters are begging me to go,” Melissa said. “We would love to have them do a project of their own and learn for themselves the impact one person can be in the world. They’ve watched the service their brothers have given to the children in Ghana. All of us can make a difference — one book at a time.”
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company