This Friday, athletes from Botswana and Zimbabwe will leave Burbank and make final preparations before the Special Olympics begin the next day. They’ll be greeted with a send-off from people from across the city, wishing them well in the upcoming games.
It’s the biggest thing 13-year-old Liam McKenna has ever organized.
“This is a foreign land,” he said. “Their homeland is on the other side of the world, in Africa, so we want to make them feel welcome.”
Liam is coordinating the send-off to complete his Eagle rank in Boy Scouts — a feat typically accomplished by much older Scouts. Having a Scoutmaster father helped him, but not by pushing him to do more; Liam says his father, Paul, has sometimes told him to slow down.
The Troop 219 Scout has visited several community groups for weeks, asking them to donate a few hours on July 24 to staff the send-off. He’s also selling flags of the United States, Botswana and Zimbabwe and will use the money to cover food for volunteers. The remainder will be donated to the Special Olympics.
Los Angeles will host the Special Olympics from July 25 to Aug. 2. Burbank signed on last year to host some of the 6,500 athletes and 2,000 coaches who will visit the area during the games.
Liam hopes to get a few hundred of his neighbors and friends to join him at Woodbury University beginning at 7:30 a.m. to begin setting up. The actual send-off ceremony will be from 10 to 11 a.m., during which Liam’s fellow Scouts and any volunteers who want to join them will present small flags to athletes as they board their buses for the games.
The Woodbury University driveway will also be lined with volunteers cheering on the athletes as they leave Burbank.
For volunteers who stay after to help cleanup, lunch will be provided.
“Out of all the projects I’ve had to do (for Scouts), this was the most complicated,” Liam said.
His journey started with a single meeting of the Burbank Sunrise Rotary Club. He said he was nervous speaking to the room full of strangers, but by the end of his speech, they were purchasing flags and volunteering to help. They even donated polio vaccines in his name.
Since that meeting, Liam has had appointments with Burbank Mayor Bob Frutos and other city officials to coordinate the event. He put up a Facebook event page to get volunteers to sign up; by the end of last week, he had more than 300 people signed.
Once the project is completed, he’ll be eligible for his Eagle rank, the highest level within Scouts. Liam said he plans to help fellow Scouts achieve their Eagle dreams as well, using the lessons he’s learned while organizing a citywide event.
“This experience has taught me a lot of things,” Liam said. “Volunteer leadership is very hard because sometimes people don’t put too much of themselves into it, because they’re not getting paid. But some are very much in it.”
To join the send-off of the Special Olympics athletes, join Liam and Troop 219 at Woodbury University, 7500 Glenoaks Blvd., beginning at 7:30 a.m. this Friday. Those who help set up get doughnuts, and people who help clean up will receive lunch.