DeKALB – Going to the Philmont South Ranch in New Mexico is not such an unusual trip for a boy scout to take. But for Keegan Donnelly, his travel there this summer was a bit of a departure from the usual.
For two weeks, Donnelly, a 15-year-old Eagle Scout from DeKalb's Boy Scout Troop 33, took part in the St. George Trek exploring what he called "God's country" with 80 boys he'd never met.
The St. George Trek is the National Catholic Committee on Scouting’s leadership program at Philmont Ranch. The program brings Catholic high school youth from across the country together with Roman Catholic priests and seminarians for 11 days of backpacking.
Usually, scouts take the Philmont trip with their own troop and scoutmaster, so the thought of traveling so far from home with boys and leaders he'd never met was daunting initially, Donnelly said. Donnelly said his scoutmaster, Cliff Golden, helped put him at ease by telling him to look at the other scouts not as boys he didn’t know, but as friends he hadn’t met yet.
“This was a good opportunity and a cost-effective opportunity. And, it was a good way to meet new friends," said Donnelly, who said he had always wanted to visit the Philmont Scout Ranch.
It was Donnelly's father who discovered the opportunity for the Aurora Central Catholic High School sophomore to take the St. George Trek.
He went through an application process through the Naitonal Catholic Committee on Scouting, which included an interview, before being chosen as the lone scout to represent the Three Fires Council and the Rockford Diocese, which includes DeKalb.
Donnelly saved money, used some funds from his Troop 33 earnings and had additional help from Dad to pay for the trip.
Donnelly, an aspiring engineer, said he is glad he got over his initial apprehension because the trip opened his eyes to resources he may now be able to tap into in pursuit of his career, and helped him see more of his inner strength and richness of his life so far.
“I felt really glad I did it, and thankful for everyone who encouraged me," he said. “I consider myself an ordinary kid who gets an opportunity to do extraordinary things in life."
Later this month, Donnelly will share details of his venture with other Three Fires Council troops at a weekend-long campout.
He said he can now impart his own wisdom, gleaned from his summer venture: "If there’s something in life you want to do — even if it doesn’t seem to be how you imagined, just go for it. You’ll usually be pleasantly surprised.”