South Jordan Eagle Scout’s Donate Life project nominated for national awardSep 08, 2022 11:34AM ● By Heather Lawrence
Catcher McCardell of South Jordan knew that when he did his Eagle Scout project, he wanted it to be something big. But he didn’t realize when he took on the task of getting a Donate Life Utah license plate it would take almost two years. He also didn’t know he’d be nominated for a national award for his project.
“I was inspired by my friend Anton Goodick’s project (See City Journals story). He helped set up and stock a food pantry for an elementary school. It was the height of the pandemic, and he made a difference in his community,” Catcher said.
He’d heard of other projects that didn’t take as much effort. “They didn’t seem like they’d put in very much work, or that their parents had actually done most of the work for them. I knew that for me it would have to be something awesome,” Catcher said.
Catcher’s mom, Michelle McCardell, works as a project facilitator for the transplant department at the University of Utah Hospital. Advocating for organ donation is part of the family’s culture.
On a road trip to Colorado in 2020, Catcher noticed a special support group license plate encouraging organ donation. He had one question for his mom: “Why don’t we have one of those?”
“I told him it was because Utah doesn’t have those plates,” McCardell said.
Suddenly, Catcher knew what he wanted to do for his Eagle Scout project. He was going to get organ donation license plates for Utah. How hard could it be to make a license plate? It turns out it wasn’t fast or easy.
“I learned a lot, and I’m really glad I did this project, but I had no idea what I was in for when I started this two years ago. I had no idea how much waiting I’d do, and how many curve balls would get thrown at me,” Catcher said.
A Donate Life license plate falls under the “special support groups” category. Right now, Utah has 69 special support license plates, ranging from Autism Awareness to Gold Star Family. The process includes collecting signatures and getting a Utah representative to sponsor a bill during a legislative session.
“I had a leg up on both these things, and I don’t know if this would have happened had I not had these connections,” Catcher said.
To collect the necessary 500 signatures, Catcher started with an easy target: his mom’s coworkers in the transplant department.
“The first 100 were really easy – I went to work with my mom and explained what I was doing and they all signed my petition,” Catcher said.
But he describes the next signature milestones as a “slow, painful crawl.” He went to public events for months, speaking to groups, walking in parades, handing out flyers and making videos to get the word out about what he was doing.
The other step was reaching out to government officials. Fortunately, he had another connection there: his friend Anton’s mom worked at the state capitol building.
“She told people in government that I was serious and would do a good job. I think a lot of people didn’t take me seriously because I’m a kid. But because of her they were willing to listen to me,” Catcher said.
Catcher learned a lot about bureaucracy and how long it can take to hear back from busy politicians. “I thought getting it voted on would be the hardest part, but really that was the easiest. The hardest parts were talking to people and getting them to take me seriously or respond back,” Catcher said.
During the 2022 legislative session he went to the capitol to speak about the bill he’d worked so hard to pass. It was easily approved, but there was more waiting for the plates to get printed and mailed out.
This summer, two years after Catcher’s “Eureka!” moment on a road trip, the plates are on his parents’ cars, and an Eagle Scout badge is on his uniform. He has also been nominated nationally for Eagle Scout Project of the Year.
“I wanted a project that would change people’s lives, but the process was slow. Because of my mom’s job, this issue is very near and dear to me.
“Yes, this will be a great thing for my resume, yes it shows I have leadership skills and yes I now have my Eagle Scout rank. But I didn’t do this for me. These plates will raise $39,000 a year to help with organ donation,” Catcher said.
To order the Donate Life plate, visit www.dmv.utah.gov/plates. The required costs add up to $71 initially, with an annual $25 contribution fee.
Catcher is proud that this was his project, from beginning to end. He encourages other Eagle Scout applicants to see the project as a real opportunity to learn and serve, not just go through the motions.
“My project turned out to be a big one, and I wouldn’t say people need to do a project as big as mine. But if you are going to do something, make sure it impacts a community you feel strongly towards, and go all out. If you only go halfway then you don’t feel you 100% earned that badge,” Catcher said.
“This whole experience has been amazing. Now every time I’m on the road, I‘m looking at people’s license plates, and I’m excited to start seeing these on the road. It’s been a long process, but being involved with organ donation is a permanent part of my life.” λ