UT basketball coach Rick Barnes, Scouts of the Year honored at annual dinner

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University of Tennessee men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes will be honored Thursday night by the local Boy Scout Council at its Distinguished Citizens Dinner. The annual fundraising event also honors Scouts of the Year.

Fifth graders at Clayton Bradley Academy in Maryville gather after school and each Wednesday for their STEM Lab. STEM Scout of the Year MJ Brooks has been a STEM Scout for three years.

“Instead of just being the regular school day, we get to learn more together after school for a couple of hours,” said Brooks.

Through her STEM experience, Brooks helped lead other kids in a creek clean-up project near her school.

“We pick up trash. We take trash bags for 15 minutes of every lab and we pick up as much trash as we can,” she said.

There’s also an event called Pistol Creek Day.

“We have different stations where we learn about the creek. We look at water samples, pick up trash around the creek. We go canoeing and look at the wildlife,” Brooks said.

These thought-provoking labs widen everyone’s curiosity about STEM. 

The Great Smoky Mountain Council is honoring two Scouts of the Year who have been lifelong friends. John D. Cobb and Alexander YarKhan were elementary school classmates. Over the years, they’ve been together everywhere in their scouting experiences.

Since middle school, Cobb and YarKhan have attended separate schools but remained in the same scout troop.

“We still saw each other every Monday at our meetings,” said YarKhan.

“We’re in the same troop and the same patrol and we’ve tag-teamed what we’ve done in scouts,” said Cobb.

What they learned in scouts was leadership and service to others. A few years ago, they teamed up with the Knoxville Chamber’s Young Entrepreneurs Academy. Working as a team, they put their minds and energy together and created a website: Refugee Like Me.   

Their non-profit “Refugee Like Me” project, created through the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, was an eye-opener.    

“We learned how to build a business from the ground up. We learned how we need to fund our business,” said YarKhan.

“We want to take the discourse about refugees out of the level of partisan polarization and give people a chance to meet refugees as fellow human beings,” said Cobb.

They earned a trip to Rochester, New York, and returned to Knoxville with an impressive honor.

“We were national semi-finalists for the Young Entrepreneur Academy,” YarKhan said.

“The biggest thing about scouting is that it gives you a chance to take a leadership opportunity. Can you name another organization on this planet that would give a 12-year-old complete control over whether or not you have enough to eat this weekend?” asked Cobb.

The Distinguished Citizens Dinner is Thursday night at the Knoxville Convention Center beginning at 7 p.m.

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