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Local Boy Scout overcomes setbacks to build 'Jeopardy!' board for youth summer camp

'With his special needs, it’s harder for him than the average kid. This shows that he can be as able as any of them,' father says

Pleasanton teen Shawn Bawa recently wrapped up his Boy Scouts Eagle project -- a life-size original "Jeopardy!" game board designed as a creative learning tool for youth attending Livermore Area Recreation and Park District's Summer Nature Camp at Sycamore Grove Park. 

The board, taller than the average man and wide as a classroom whiteboard with four wheels, can withstand wind and collisions with kids. It is a woodworking feat for a 17-year-old, especially one with three medical health conditions.

Shawn Bawa was born with triplegic spastic cerebral palsy, verbal dysarthria and ADHD, which together impact his gross motor, fine motor, speech and ability to focus. He has had to undergo therapy since he was 6 months old and "is harder to understand, a little weaker and slower than other kids his age," said his father Aman Bawa.

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Shawn Bawa works with local woodworking experts in drilling planks of wood. Photo courtesy of Aman Bawa

That didn’t stop Shawn Bawa from joining up as a Cub Scout in fourth grade and progressing up to the Boy Scouts, in which he has completed several adventure camps and now aims to attain the rank of Eagle. Completion of his Eagle project -- a significant project to benefit the community -- brings him one large step closer to his goal.

Heading into the project in early February brought Shawn Bawa and his family a dual sense of "excitement and trepidation." A lover of the game and fan of former host Alex Trebek, Shawn Bawa hoped to combine the competitive fun of "Jeopardy!" with its beneficial and versatile learning experience.

However, the project was ambitious, something his family had never attempted before. Specific challenges included working on a design that would be mobile, stable and safe for the camp instructors and students.

While Shawn Bawa consulted with adult experts and scout leaders on how to build the "Jeopardy!" board, he largely directed the operation. He drew abundant redesigns, modeled the board with scrap wood, documented a detailed work plan and sent out invites and announcements for volunteering. In doing so, he gained new skills in technical and organizational design, budgeting and acquiring materials.

Throughout the building process, Shawn Bawa instructed younger scouts through sanding, priming and painting the wood. The trivia categories for the board are customizable and can include questions on various topics. 

"He saw the dedication and drive to be able to keep trying. We saw that throughout the whole project. There were various setbacks, and the kids and adults all watched Shawn work through all of them and be able to achieve the progress," said Aman Bawa.

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Shawn Bawa directs his team of younger scout volunteers in sanding the lumber wood used to make the "Jeopardy!" board. . Photo courtesy of Aman Bawa

As a leader, Shawn Bawa learned how to motivate and manage both adults and his peers, and how to push past different challenges.

"The key learning point is it’s not all on you, you don’t have to do every part, but you have to manage the whole situation, program-manage, and manage the whole effort and each activity," said Aman Bawa. "We have a great community here, and there’s a lot you can do to organize the overall community to work it out."

He said he felt "tremendous pride" as he watched his son tackle the project and deliver the "Jeopardy!" board to their Livermore beneficiary Seth Eddings, who, upon delivery, noted ecstatically that the board was exactly what the camp had been looking for. According to Eddings, the Summer Nature Camp instructors and students have been enjoying the "Jeopardy!" game since delivery. 

"This was a great confidence builder for Shawn. With his special needs, it’s harder for him than the average kid. This shows that he can be as able as any of them, and it’s a great achievement for him and a great learning experience for him," said Aman Bawa.

After completing his Eagle project, Shawn Bawa will continue to work toward reaching his Eagle Scout rank -- he is currently one merit badge short -- and plans to remain active in volunteering and other scout activities to contribute to his community.