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Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Deeb Habchi is a special Eagle Scout
By Yvonne T. Betowt
October 12, 2009, 6:20AM

Deeb Habchi.jpgEric Schultz -- Huntsville TimesDeeb Habchi, who has Down syndrome, earned 21 merit badges and did a community project to earn his Eagle Scout badge.MADISON, AL - Six months ago, Bob Jones High School student Deeb Habchi became a member of an exclusive club when he earned his Eagle Scout badge as a member of Troop 350 in Madison.

Only 4 percent of all boys who join Scouts become an Eagle Scout, which requires earning 21 merit badges and completing a community project before reaching their 18th birthday.

Deeb's merit badges ranged from computers and communications to camping and crime prevention. Then he embarked on his Eagle project - building a sidewalk from a classroom to an outdoor patio area for Bob Jones special needs students to prevent their shoes, walkers and wheelchairs from getting muddy when it rains.

He finished the project less than a month before his 18th birthday - April 18. He was presented his Eagle Scout badge at a ceremony Sept. 26 at St. John Catholic School where Troop 350 meets.

By the way, Deeb Habchi has Down syndrome.

Down syndrome is a genetic condition usually caused during a pregnancy when a cell divides, leaving the embryo with three copies of chromosome 21 instead of the usual two, according to the National Down Syndrome Society 's Web site (

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month and Deeb recently helped as a volunteer at the Buddy Walk at Joe Davis Stadium in Huntsville.

"I just want other kids with Down to know they can do it," said Deeb, who also learned to snow ski while on a Scouting trip to West Virginia.

"We are so proud of Deeb," said his father, Sami Habchi, who served as an assistant Scout master in his son's troop. He worked closely with Deeb on his final project along with many of the troop members. "It's a big accomplishment for him. We hope by sharing his story it will inspire others."

The father and son teamed up on the Eagle project, which took five months from start to finish. After Deeb got permission from the school, he and his dad planned the dimensions and made the drawings for the sidewalk, which had to be submitted to a troop leader for approval.

Construction began Feb. 21 and, after more than 160 labor hours donated by Deeb, his family, fellow scouts and friends who put down 1,200 bricks, the project was completed March 22.

"We could have gotten an extension (because of his disability), but we didn't want to take away from what he had already accomplished," said Sami Habchi.

It was not an easy road for Deeb who had school work and extracurricular activities at school that required his attention.

"I thought about quitting because I wanted to do other stuff in high school," said Deeb who has been in Scouting since he became a Cub Scout while in first grade. "But I just decided not to give up."

Deeb, whose parents are from Lebanon, was named after his paternal grandfather. His name means "wolf."

While Deeb did the majority of the work on his badges and project, he had a lot of moral support from his family, including his dad, mom, Nawal, and sisters, Kristina, 16, and Hana, 11.

But it was not just a family affair. It was virtually the entire community of Madison pulling for one of their favorite sons.

"Working with Deeb has enriched my life," said Deeb's former Scout Master Reed Alexander. "He did everything he was supposed to do and didn't need any special consideration. Deeb's journey was a steady progress. He showed that Scouts is for all kids regardless of their ability or socio-economic status."

His current Scout Master, Dave Johnston, who has known him for seven years, said Deeb "did all the work. Becoming an Eagle Scout is not easy for anyone, especially one with challenges. But it never seemed to be a struggle for Deeb."

Karen Sargent, a volunteer with Troop 350 and at Bob Jones, said Deeb's winsome personality draws people to him.

"The boys just love Deeb," she said. "It amazes me what he has accomplished. The success (of a person with Down syndrome) depends on the family support."

Sargent's son, Taylor, earned his Eagle Scout badge by building a sidewalk on the other side of the patio area, opposite Deeb's project. Another Eagle Scout also played a role in the project.

David Miles of Madison, who was killed when the bus he and other Marines were traveling in overturned in South Alabama, built the patio area where the two sidewalks Taylor and Deeb built now lead, said Sargent.

Deeb has always attended regular classes at school and did not even know until recently he has Down syndrome.

"We wanted to treat him as normal as possible," said Sami Habchi. "The schools have always worked very well with us and we appreciate everyone's support."

He is especially appreciative to the Scout Masters and den leaders, including Alexander, Johnston, Jay Perry and David Mark, for supporting Deeb. He also credits his wife for helping Deeb succeed in school.

"I worked with him in Scouts, but she did the schoolwork," he said.

Nawal is grateful for the support of local educators, especially Maria Kilgore, director of special education with the Madison schools.

"The schools always wanted to put Deeb in the special needs class, but we always asked them to put him in a regular class and if the teacher complained, we said we would take him out," she said. "No one ever had any complaints."

Nawal Habchi says Deeb's first speech therapist was his sister, Kristina, who repeated a word over and over until her older brother would say it.

He sometimes has difficulty pronouncing words so his youngest sister, Hana, tries to help by saying the words for him. But, like most brothers, he's not always keen on his sister's assistance.

"Go sit down," said Deeb during a conversation with a visitor to the Habchis' Madison home. "I can handle this."

Deeb can pretty well handle anything life throws at him. After all, he is an Eagle Scout.

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