By Deb Silverthorn
Special to the TJP
Far North Dallas resident Gavin Shrell is wrapping up his Eagle Scout requirements with kindness, care and warmth to chemotherapy patients of Texas Oncology: Presbyterian Cancer Center Dallas.
Gavin is raising funds and making blankets. From 4 to 8 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 10, at Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Store at Preston Road and Forest Lane, Gavin along with family and friends will meet to assemble flannel swatches creating blankets for those undergoing cancer treatments. This will be the third and final of his blanket-making endeavors.
For Gavin, warmth and concern for cancer patients comes from personal experience and heartache — too young to know the consequences of disease, Gavin ties each knot on every cozy comforter in memory of his friend Sasha Okhotskiy, who died in 2009, and in honor of his own mother’s successful battle against ovarian cancer, which began in 2010. For his bar mitzvah project, Gavin collected Legos to donate to a project of his Tigers Baseball team, the toys given to the play area at Children’s Hospital where Sasha had been treated.
“We finished 36 blankets in get-togethers on Nov. 18 and 20, and with some people doing them on their own, including my family who helped out over the Thanksgiving holiday. I think between the event on the 10th, and the help others are giving in their free time, I’ll get all 100 finished,” said Gavin, a member of Congregation Anshai Torah and former Ann and Nate Levine Academy and RISD student who plans to reach his goal of donating 100 blankets by his 18th birthday Jan. 26.
“I wanted to honor my friend and my mom and help people going through this disease,” said Gavin, the son of Julie and Rob Shrell and brother of Marissa and Simone, who is a senior at Yavneh Academy with plans to participate in Young Judaea Year Course next year. “It’s cold and uncomfortable and anything I can do to help make a difference.”
A member of Boy Scout Troop 1077 since he was in the third grade, Gavin looks forward to earning the rank of Eagle Scout. “I’ve enjoyed campouts, learning how to use guns and knives — safely — and to prepare for survival scenarios,” he said. “I have just a few badges left to complete and this project, and I know I’ll be glad when I realize this goal.”
The requirement for the Eagle Scout Leadership Service project is to find a beneficiary, propose a project which would benefit the beneficiary and get their approval, plan the project and document the planning such that another person could complete the project without the candidate, solicit and organize additional persons to help execute the project, execute the project, and complete the project report and record the number of total hours spent by the candidate and others — usually 50-100 hours.
The project must be more than fundraising, although it is usually necessary to raise funds or solicit contributed materials, and the project may not be only performing labor on tasks which the beneficiary would have performed or paid to have performed anyway.
“I have known Gavin since he joined Scouts around seven years ago and through that period he has grown and matured very considerably. Nationally, fewer than 5 percent of the boys who join Scouts attain Eagle,” said his Scoutmaster, Richard Hutchins.
“We’ve definitely encouraged and supported Gavin and he’s learning that if you do the work, you get the honor. This is a very personal project, for all of us, and it is absolutely an example of the caring, sweet, and kindhearted person that Gavin is,” said Julie Shrell. She noted that in addition to the passing of her son’s classmate, Gavin also lost Lynn Shaw, a J.J. Pearce High School theater teacher whom he was close to, and her father — Gavin’s grandfather, Dr. Edward Genecov — all to cancer, within two weeks. Just a year later, Julie would receive her diagnosis, only months before Gavin’s bar mitzvah — a lot for anyone, especially a preteen, to manage. “Through his efforts I think he has also gained an acceptance of what we went through, and a comfort in realizing we have passed it.”
“It means so much to do something good and Gavin’s great heart is so obvious through his actions. He doesn’t do anything for the recognition; mostly he’s an ‘under-the-radar’ do-gooder,” said Rob Shrell, echoing his wife’s prideful voice. “I don’t know if he realizes how many people love being with him, because of his goodness and sense of others — it’s just who he is.”
Texas Oncology at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas, where Gavin’s mother received her chemo treatments, provides chemotherapy, radiation therapy and other vital services to its patients. While the number varies, there are approximately 200 new patients receiving services each month; Gavin’s project intends to serve at least half of those.
“We forget that even when it isn’t cold outside, chemo patients often require blankets to keep them warm during their treatments,” said Margaret Rhoads, nurse manager at Texas Oncology, regarding the first such offer to the practice. “This is a wonderful project and a very useful one as well and we are glad to certainly support Gavin every step of the way.
“Gavin certainly is a chip off the old block — interested in making change and giving of his heart,” said Rhoads. “Because we don’t have the facilities to wash blankets and reuse them, we are grateful for the support and will use these blankets in baskets we give our new patients as they begin their care with us. Each blanket will be a gift for the patient to keep, care for, and bring to their sessions. It’s really very special that this young man has taken the interest, care and time to put this all together.”
A head lifeguard at the Aaron Family JCC, president of his sophomore class and a member of Young Men’s Service League, Gavin is a member of BBYO’s Ruben Kaplan AZA chapter, for which he served as shaliach (vice president of Jewish education and philanthropy), moreh (vice president, new members), and beau to Reba Wadel BBG.
“Gavin is a caring person, committed to what he believes in,” said Sherrie Stalarow, senior regional director of the North Texas Oklahoma Region of BBYO, Inc., which selected Gavin as one of few participants in the region’s Young Leadership class a few years ago. “He continues to grow as a person and a leader, and I am extremely proud of his dedication and what he has been able to achieve.”
Contributions for the materials for the project are being collected privately and through a GoFundMe page created by Gavin. Each blanket is 4 feet 5 inches wide by 4 feet 7.5 inches. The sheets of flannel are cut to a pattern, with fringes tied all around. Gavin has chosen materials that include designs of Jewish stars, anchors, vibrant colors, Native American prints and more.
With every fiber of the fleece, and every fiber of his person, Gavin’s project will soar, just as the eagle does, leaving those who witness the moment in awe.
For more information about participating on Dec. 10 or otherwise between now and mid-January, call 972-757-7188 or email here. To donate to Gavin’s project, visit http://bit.ly/1jv5QXy.