When Thomas van Veldhuisen was a young boy, his church, St. David’s Episcopal in Cranbury, lacked a play area. “We used to climb trees and get in all kinds of trouble,” he recalled.
So when the now-17-year-old Thomas, a member of Boy Scout Troop 55 in Crosswicks, was pursuing his Eagle Scout award, he decided that his community service project would be a playground for the children at St. David’s.
He raised $4,800 from community groups, businesses, members of the congregation and other supporters. Volunteers did ground work to prepare the site behind the church’s fellowship hall, and the playground was installed and opened recently. It includes swings, a slide, a climbing wall and a tire swing — “we got as big as we could,” Thomas said.
The popularity of the new playground was apparent on a recent chilly Sunday, when children swarmed over it after services. Undoubtedly, Thomas’s mother, Donna, who died in 2011, would have been pleased. “She was very involved working with youth at St. David’s,” he said, and the playground is also a tribute to her memory.
The Reverend Karin Mitchell, St. David’s rector, said the church is very grateful to Thomas and his family for their dedication to St. David’s.
Scouting runs in the van Veldhuisen family, Thomas explained. His paternal grandfather, Willem, was a scout as a boy in the Netherlands, and his father, Rex, is a leader in the Crosswicks troop, which is in the Boy Scouts’ Garden State Council. Thomas’s brother, Derek, 15, is also a scout. His sister, Greta, 19, a student at Towson University in Maryland, was a Girl Scout.
Thomas received his Eagle Scout award on December 11. A junior at North Burlington Regional High School, he has set his sights on becoming an aeronautical engineer and journeying into space one day. Perhaps he got his start at risk-taking by climbing trees at St. David’s.