When Neal Green was trying to come up with a project to earn an Eagle Award, the highest rank in the Boy Scouts, he wanted to do something that would have a direct impact on people.
The 13-year-old North Laurel resident wasn't interested in doing a typical Eagle project, such as fixing up a hiking trail.
Instead, Neal collected more than 10,000 toiletry items for the homeless and helped to distribute them in Washington with Hand-to-Hand, a Potomac-based volunteer group committed to helping the homeless.
The project helped to earn him the award and showed him that he can make a difference.
"When we arrived [in Washington] and people surrounded the van, it really came to me that I made an impact, to see how much they really needed the things," said Neal, a ninth-grader at Atholton High School.
Neal became an Eagle Scout in November, the youngest in his troop, but he doesn't plan to rest on his merit badges.
He wants to encourage other boys in his troop to stay in Scouting and help them to earn the Eagle Award.
"I think it helps you to develop leadership skills and it gives you so many opportunities to explore your interests," Neal said of Scouting. "I know some people who got good in first aid, and they're now going into the medical profession."
Neal joined the Boy Scouts three years ago and progressed through the different ranks -- Scout, Tenderfoot, 2nd Class, 1st Class, Star, Life and Eagle.
Along the way he learned traditional Scouting skills such as first aid and knot-tying, went on camping trips and earned the 21 merit badges required for the Eagle rank.
Ernest Faust, Neal's scoutmaster, said the Eagle program is the culmination of Scouting, and attempts to develop leadership skills and character through service and achievement.
He said that only two Scouts out of a hundred achieve the Eagle rank.
"Any boy who makes Eagle has gone through a fairly rigorous personal development program," Mr. Faust said.
Neal is one of the first Scouts to achieve the Eagle rank under an accelerated Eagle program that went into effect three years ago, Mr. Faust said. The revised program allows boys to move more quickly through the lower Scouting ranks.
However, the new program doesn't diminish Neal's achievement, Faust said.
"In Neal's case, he had to motivate a lot of people to come up with this project," Mr. Faust said.
Neal began his effort last May by visiting Ilene Leventhal, the director of Hand-to-Hand. He learned that the agency was in need of toiletries for the homeless.
Ms. Leventhal said she had no doubt that Neal would make his project a success.
"He was so enthusiastic, not only about his project, but about selecting a project that would really make a difference," Ms. Leventhal said.
"It's unusual to see that kind of commitment in a kid that age."
With the help of his two brothers, Louis, 16, and David, 12, who are Eagle and Star Scouts, respectively, Neal distributed fliers explaining his project to his school and to homes in the Hammond Hills and Cherry Tree Farms communities. At the homes, the boys left bags in which people could place donated toiletries.
The boys then collected the items, sorted and packaged them and distributed them to the homeless in Washington.
Neal said the experience is one he won't soon forget, and he plans to volunteer for Hand-to-Hand on more distributions.
"I think that everyone should go on one of these runs; you really see what you can do," Neal said.
"Some of these people only have the plastic bag that Hand-to-Hand had given them. You learn that you have to treasure what you have."