CENTRE COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — After losing two members to suicide, Boy Scout Troop 32 in State College is coming together in the wake of tragedy by bringing their communities together for a cause.
The new David O’Connell Health Education Building at Seven Mountains Scout Camp officially opened in June. The building’s namesake was a member of Troop 32.
“It was a really special place for him and scouts was really a passion of his,” David’s father Don O’Connell said. “He enjoyed everything: the camping, the outdoors, the skills he learned. It was really special for him to be a scout.”
David died by suicide in 2021 but his legacy is living on through the new building. The center is dedicated to David and fellow troop member, Brandon Koppenhaver, who also died by suicide.
“The hope was that we’ll make it centered not just on health, but on mental health with a bulletin board out front to have mental health resources, crisis toll-free number, everything like that,” Don said. “Hopefully it’ll educate scouts, get them to talk about mental health issues and maybe even save somebody.”
The building is replacing a small health trailer at the camp. Talks to create the center in honor of David began in January, with construction beginning shortly after.
“They were very, very old and really were not up to the level of service that we want to provide to our campers,” Scout Executive Jeff Pickett said.
35 companies donated time, money or resources to build the center, bringing the cost of the building from an original estimate of $160,000 to $25,000.
“It was very very moving. You could see the kids working together for the memory of their friends. They were having fun doing that,” Pickett said. “Then there were other times that were much more poignant and you could see some tears in their eyes because they do, they miss their brother scouts.”
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Organizations with a mental health focus will be brought to the center regularly to provide resources. Pickett said a center with this focus is uncommon at scout camps.
“This is pretty unique in our area,” Pickett said. “It’s one of those things that we’re trying to raise awareness of so that we can help young people and older people as well. If they’re having any kind of issues, we want them to get those addressed.”