There have been many Eagle Scout stories over the years — stories of hard work, diligence and good deeds. Brandon Miller’s is one of these, but maybe one that could have an asterisk printed next to it.
His is also a story of compassion, courage and composure: Not only did he provide a source of playful diversion for kids living in a shelter, he likely saved his grandfather’s life in the process.
Brandon is a junior at Skyview High School and the son of John and Catherine Miller, who adopted him at the age of 7 out of the foster care system. Brandon can remember living with his biological mother in shelters that often lacked play equipment for the children. So when it came time to choose a service project to become an Eagle Scout, he decided on a playground for the kids at Valley Homestead, a Share shelter in west Vancouver.
“There are not a lot of things for the younger kids to do in a shelter,” Brandon said. “I guess I was doing it for the little version of me that used to live in a shelter, just so the kids can forget about being homeless and just be kid.”
Brandon wanted to create an entire playground, but when he found that too expensive and too complicated by red tape to realize, he settled for a simpler approach: providing a four-person teeter totter. He organized several fundraising work parties at Vancouver Ford and raised more money through a GoFundMe account.
Preparation work followed; the old, existing, unsafe structure had to be torn down and a cubic yard of cement had to be prepared and poured as a foundation for the teeter totter.
Work day takes turn
On Oct. 25, Brandon, his father, John, and grandfather Jerry Lehman, 73, set out to make a day of it, first purchasing cement at Parr Lumber and hauling it to the site at Valley Homestead, where a large work party was organized by Brandon. After loading the bags of cement, John told Brandon to hop in the pickup with him, but Brandon asked to ride to the shelter with his grandfather.
That’s when the day took a turn.
According to Brandon, they were traveling on Stapleton Road toward Highway 500 when Jerry began driving erratically.
“I noticed we were veering over, almost hitting a car. I looked at him and he had his head down. I nudged him, but he didn’t wake up. I realized something was wrong with him, so I grabbed the steering wheel and started steering us away to the side of the road.
Brandon instantly recalled a story he’d read in a Boys Life magazine in a column called “Scouts in Action,” about a kid in a situation just like his, and similarly, pulled Jerry’s foot off the gas pedal. But the vehicle was still out of control.
“We were going about 75 miles per hour in a 35 zone,” he said. “I couldn’t reach the emergency brake, but put my foot over his leg to reach the brake pedal and ended up slowing enough to get the truck onto the sidewalk and put it in park.”
Once it stopped, Brandon pulled Jerry out of the cab and onto the street and attempted to give him CPR. While not certified in CPR, he has taken coursework through health class and Scouts in emergency preparation and first aid.
Since he didn’t have his cellphone, Brandon ran to a nearby house where the homeowner helped him call 911. Then the woman — Brandon knows her only as Betty — stayed on the line with them while Brandon returned to his grandfather. Although he said it seemed like longer, within four minutes police and paramedics arrived to attend to Jerry, twice applying paddles. He would later require surgery involving the insertion of several stents and a defibrillator. He has recently received a clean bill of health following cardiac rehabilitation.
Only after he’d been taken away by the ambulance did the whole situation become real to Brandon, and he allowed the tears to come.
“The whole time I’d just tried to keep my cool, and all I kept feeling was I just wanted to make sure my Grandpa was ok.”
Asked about his recollections, Jerry said, “Truthfully, I don’t even really remember leaving Parr Lumber. It was just a miracle that he knew what to do and he did it. And it was a miracle he was even with me. He was my guardian angel.”
Two weeks later, a work party formed to finish the job at Valley Homestead. When staff at Yard N Garden Land in Hazel Dell heard Brandon’s story, they sold him 26 yards of bark dust he needed at a deep discount.
Dellan Redjou, director of volunteers and community resources for Share, was present during the final phases of the project’s construction.
“It was fun to watch the work party he had over there with all the buzz around the project,” she said. “They did a great job. It’s great to have the teeter totter available for the kids. We love anything which gives them a reason to go out and play.”
Brandon’s Eagle ceremony took place on his birthday, March 15, and his Court of Honor will take place May 1.
All the drama of that October day is just one part of the entire story of his teeter totter Eagle project. His favorite part of the story?
“Getting to see the kids playing on it,” he said.