Eagle scout hopeful launches project to help Orlando's homeless

Baxter Murrell hopes to help out 400 homeless Central Florida residents with backpacks filled with supplies to help them survive.

Baxter Murrell hopes to help out 400 homeless Central Florida residents with backpacks filled with supplies to help them survive.

Allison Olcsvay

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At 15 years old Baxter Murrell is already an accomplished young man. A sophomore at Winter Park High School, Baxter is in the International Baccalaureate Program, excels at public speaking and is well on his way to earning the rank of Eagle Scout.

For his Eagle Scout project, Baxter has made an ambitious choice to provide 400 supply-filled backpacks to the men and women served by the homeless ministry of St. George Orthodox Church in downtown Orlando.

The total cost of the project is estimated at around $15,000.

According to one of Baxter’s scout leaders, David Rotenberger, Baxter’s project is exceptional in that it is much more complex and therefore costly than the typical project.

“I’ve seen a lot of projects and this one is huge,” said Rotenberger.

“I could have chosen a less involved project,” Baxter said. “But I wanted to do something more monumental and I wanted to inspire other scouts to step up their game and do something really big as well.”

Baxter was inspired to help the homeless after a recent service project he and his father completed. Together they gathered gently used items from around their home and distributed them at St. George.

“As I was talking to the people there, I asked what practical help they could really use and many mentioned backpacks and personal items like underwear and washcloths,” Baxter said. “So that’s what I decided to do.”

When he presented the idea to his troop leaders, many felt the project was perhaps too ambitious. It was suggested that he do maybe 50 or 100 backpacks.

“The homeless ministry serves up to 400 people though, and I just couldn’t see leaving anyone out,” Baxter said.

“I take my hat off to him,” said Rotenberger. “He had a vision and he’s seeing it through, no matter how challenging.”

Not one to settle for second best, Baxter is in the process of negotiating with JanSport to purchase the 400 backpacks at a discount.

“I could have gone with a cheaper alternative, but I wanted to give them something that would last and really be useful,” he said.

Each backpack will be filled with a complete personal-care kit including toothpaste and brush, deodorant, soap bar, washcloth, bug spray, razors, T-shirt, socks, boxer shorts, yogurt-covered pretzel snacks, and bottled water.

In a short while, with the help of generous donations, Baxter has already raised just over $9,000 toward his goal. In addition, he has received enough toothpaste, brushes and snacks to more than meet the needs of the project.

He’s still hoping to find a donor for deodorant and bug spray, two of the more expensive items in the kit.

Baxter says he’s found inspiration to continue the project from his grandfather who passed away a few years ago.

“I spent a lot of time with him; we were very close and my desire to become a lawyer comes from my relationship with him,” he said.

Robert Murrell Sr. was a lawyer for 57 years in downtown Orlando. His office occupied the building across the street from St. George Orthodox Church and for quite some time the family has had a history of aiding the church’s endeavors.

“I’ve always felt like there was so much more we could be doing; there are so many missing pieces. I want people to see this and to know that there are still good people out there and worthy projects to be tackled,” Baxter said.

Baxter is graced with an uncommon poise and confidence for someone so young — a fact that he credits to something he once dreaded.

When he was in the sixth grade, his parents signed him up for ballroom dancing and etiquette lessons at the Winter Park Woman’s Club.

At first, he hated it so much he said that he would fake sick just to get out of going. Five years later, he has returned as assistant to his former teacher Arlene Wroblicky.

“I am so grateful now that they made me stick with it, because I really gained a lot of confidence there,” Baxter said.

“He’s at ease with everyone, kids, adults, it doesn’t matter. He is just such a gentleman,” Wroblicky said. “He doesn’t take his work lightly, no matter what he does. I feel privileged to know him.”

Despite the ambitious scope of the project, Baxter said he’s confident that he will complete it by his personal deadline, which is the end of this summer.

If all goes well with this project, he would like to see it reach other cities in the future.

“This is just the beginning, it could definitely be expanded,” Baxter said.

As for the future, Baxter hopes to attend the University of Florida after high school and someday become a lawyer, following in his grandfather’s footsteps.

“I want to do more in life than just a 9-to-5 though; what I really want is to make an impact, to make things better.”