WINSTON — Zechariah Jacobsen has come a long way since joining Boy Scout Troop 225. He recently attained the rank of Eagle Scout and in the process gained something else.
“He has friends now,” his mother, Molly Jacobsen, said with a smile.
Zechariah Jacobsen, 19, of Winston joined the troop a year after he was diagnosed in 2006 with Asperger’s syndrome, a condition characterized by difficulties in social interaction and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests.
“It started out a bit rough,” he said. “There were people I didn’t get along with. People didn’t understand me due to my Asperger’s.”
He said before joining Scouts he lacked communication skills and could not convey feelings. Through the organization, he has learned to communicate, display feelings and be more socially aware, he said.
For his Eagle Scout project, Jacobsen rebuilt 18 picnic table tops and 32 benches at Wildlife Safari in Winston.
He raised money for the project and organized troop and community members to help with the construction. The tables are placed throughout the park.
The Scouts gave him a six-month extension for the project to accommodate his disability.
Former Umpqua Community College instructor Michael Connolly tutored Jacobsen for more than three years.
“When I first began, he couldn’t look me in the eye. Any kind of normal stressors for most people — activity noises, talking about feelings — he wouldn’t be able to handle,” he said.
He said Jacobsen has improved a tremendous amount since the two have worked together.
Teachers often misunderstand students with Asperger’s and do not provide them the extra help they need, he said. They think students with the disability are being stubborn or arrogant, when they simply do not know how to function in class, he said.
Jacobsen now splits his education between UCC, Douglas High School and Silver Crest High School, a private school for special-needs students.
Molly Jacobsen said scouting has opened doors for Zechariah.
“Scouts is good because it’s structured. There are visual reminders of accomplishments, and it provides for real-life skills,” she said.
He has a summer job working outdoors. He also recently received a college scholarship, both achievements he attributes to scouting. He said he hopes to work in either biology or environmental science eventually.
He encourages others with disabilities to join scouting.
Connolly said Zechariah’s determination will take him far in life.
“I’m so ecstatic that he didn’t give up and kept pushing forward. I don’t see him quitting in life, and he’s taught me a lot,” Connolly said. “In the beginning, he was a completely different person, and I’m so proud of him. He’s an inspiring kid.”
• You can reach reporter Betsy Swanback at 541-957-4208 or by email at email@example.com.