Even when David Fleming was at his lowest, when nothing was funny, when he could find no joy, he kept going to Boy Scouts.

He was in eighth grade, and his parents had split up, his family was struggling financially and he and his younger brothers had serious health issues.

“I couldn’t find positives in things,” he said. “I isolated myself. I was cynical about everything.”

This year, however, sticking with Boy Scouts paid off as David, now 17, achieved Eagle Scout status, the highest rank a Boy Scout can achieve.

For his project, he tied fleece blankets and assembled care packages for young people in need, devoting more than 700 hours, said his mother, Cindy Fleming.

He named his project “Giving Back” in honor of all he had received during his own difficult years.

Struggles

David’s love for the Boy Scouts of America goes back to when he was age 6. His uncle, Randy Hansen, was an Eagle Scout and showed him his sash and badges.

“He really loved it and told us stories about it,” David said.

David’s early childhood hadn’t been easy, either. He weighed under three pounds at birth, his mom said, and struggled to grow. He was born with a heart defect which was repaired in elementary school. He had to take growth hormone shots every night in order to grow to his present height of about 5 foot 5 inches. He had asthma and a stutter. He had trouble making friends.

When he joined Cub Scouts, though, he felt right at home.

“You found your community,” Cindy told him as he searched for ways to explain just how much the group meant to him. “The older scouts took you under their wings.”

Scouting gave him evenings of board games, camps to go to and badges to earn. Besides scouting, he learned to play the violin, viola and piano, developing a love for classical and folk music.

When depression struck, David said, he kept going to scouting meets, but he didn’t progress. He stopped earning badges and moving up through the ranks. He continued to play music, but it brought him no joy.

Unexpected source of help

During those tough years, people would leave food on their front steps. Music teachers provided free lessons. Their churches and relatives stepped in. Love INC provided school supplies for the boys.

“So many people surrounded David and our family with love and support – including those that we really didn't know,” Cindy said.

And David discovered an unexpected source of solace: misfits at his own school.

“They listened to me,” he said. “They didn’t judge me. They were there for me. They didn’t tell me to feel better. They were able to treat me as a real and full person and empathize with what I was going through.”

Cindy said his own troubles made David understand why some kids behaved badly at times.

“Many were struggling just as much as he was, but had fewer resources or simply lacked hope for a better life,” she said.

Plunging back in

When his depression eased, David plunged back into his scouting, pursuing the badges necessary to become an Eagle Scout. On a recent afternoon, he pointed out the silver-lined badges that moved him toward that top status. To earn one badge, he tracked his spending for three months, becoming much more frugal as a result. To earn another, he had to track his chores at home.

He helped to build a fire pit and trails at a scouting camp, where he also painted buildings and eliminated invasive plants. He has collected food for the food shelf. Then there was the shared time with other scouts, playing Capture the Flag, working with metal and shooting a shotgun.

He also pursued his many other interests. He joined Knowledge Bowl, Speech, Student Council, National Honor Society, musicals and the Central Lakes Symphony Orchestra.

To become an Eagle Scout, scouts enlist others to help them with their major project, and community members and scouts contributed about 250 hours toward David’s project. By the end, he had collected more than 1,000 items and made 64 fleece blankets and 46 care packages containing toiletries, candy and a fun item like a Frisbee. Care packages went to the high school’s REACH program and food shelf, Alomere Hospital and Someplace Safe.

His younger brother, Christian, 16, is also working on an Eagle Scout project of collecting used musical instruments for elementary and high school students who can’t afford their own.

David said he plans to go to college and also stay involved with scouting.

“I hope kids will take advantage of scouting programs,” he said. “It really lays a good foundation.”