Little Free Libraries and outdoor concert part of Lansing teen’s Eagle Scout project

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Eagle Scout
(Photo provided)
By Josh Bootsma

LANSING, Ill. (February 22, 2021) – After an informal jazz concert outside the Lansing Post Office in January, Ted Gray raised enough money to build four Little Free Libraries—the final step in his pursuit to become an Eagle Scout. Once spring comes and the ground thaws, the four Little Free Libraries will be set up at the primary and elementary schools in District 158.

Becoming an Eagle Scout

Gray started a decade-long process in first grade when he became a cub scout. He later became a boy scout in Lansing Troop 276 and worked his way through the sixth ranks before eyeing the seventh and highest rank: Eagle Scout.

“A few years ago I wasn’t confident that I’d make it really, I just kind of figured it wasn’t going to happen,” Gray said. The process to move from a Boy Scout, the lowest rank, to an Eagle Scout is not an easy one and usually takes at least a few years.

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When reflecting on his years-long process, however, Gray decided to take the last and final step toward becoming an Eagle Scout. “I thought, ‘I’ve been at this for so long I really ought to see it through,'” he said.

One of many achievements that must be accomplished to reach Eagle rank is overseeing and raising funds for a community project. When Gray considered what projects to undertake, both the pandemic and his childhood experience led him to choose Little Free Libraries.

Library inspiration

When Gray was about 12, he remembers driving with his mom through a neighborhood that had a Little Free Library situated in the middle of a tree stump. Since then, he’s noticed the small take-a-book-leave-a-book libraries grow in popularity in the area, including in Lansing.

The childhood memories combined with increased screen usage among children during the pandemic caused Gray to focus his efforts on creating Little Free Libraries for Lansing youth.

“I thought building some of these to put at the public schools in Lansing would be kind of an outlet for these kids who haven’t had a lot of good reading material,” Gray said. “They can have access to these books that are free and just take them and put them back. … It kind of helps encourage people to do some physical reading again,”

Outdoor “jazz standards” help raise funds

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As part of their final projects, aspiring Eagle Scouts are required to do their own fundraising. Gray found a unique way to solicit both monetary and book donations.

In late January, Gray took his tuba and met up with his brother, who plays the trombone, and two of their friends, who play the trombone and saxophone. The quartet, who had publicized their informal concert on social media, settled outside of the Lansing Post Office and played some “jazz standards” like Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra. Gray said the group played New Orleans jazz also.

The teenage musicians fundraised to the tune of $950 and received many books that will help jumpstart the Little Free Libraries in the spring.

Eagle Scout
Ted Gray and his jazz quartet braved the January weather and played Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, and others outside the Lansing Post Office to raise money for his Eagle Scout project. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Building and managing

Gray worked with his dad in January on cutting the wood and preparing for the next day’s assembly. The following day, Gray, his dad, and a group of boy scouts and other volunteers gathered in the gym of St. John Lutheran Church and constructed the small, wooden libraries in just a few hours.

Gray said leadership is a fundamental part of an Eagle Scout’s final project, and he did not do any assembly on construction day, instead managing and overseeing the project with the knowledge he’s gained from years as a boy scout.

Eagle Scout
Lansing Boy Scouts helped Gray complete his project. (Photo provided)

“I had to take my accumulated knowledge and skills I’ve picked up over the years to lead a group of guys to get this done,” Gray said.

A project for Lansing

Although Gray is not yet officially an Eagle Scout pending some formalities, he has completed all the required elements and is looking forward to the day when his promotion is made official.

The Marian Catholic senior is planning to install the libraries in the spring when the ground thaws. Reavis, Oak Glen, Coolidge, and Lester Crawl schools will each host one of Gray’s Little Free Libraries.

“I know to a lot of people this kind of [boy scout] stuff gets old after a while, especially if you don’t have the right kind of guys out there with you it can get kind of boring,” said Gray. “But I think I have a pretty good troop, some fun people to stick with me and help push me through it and I’m glad they did.”

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2 COMMENTS

  1. These little free libraries are a great idea! I’m hoping that Mr. Gray also includes Nathan Hale School in Lansing. Students will enjoy perusing these books and finding the right ones to meet their interests. I am a teacher in Lansing and would love to help getting books to put in these libraries.

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