Young drummer reaches for Eagle status

Alim Howell, 17, plays the drums during a service at the Zion Baptist Church of Ardmore. A clothing drive with eight locations for dropoff is part of his effort to become an Eagle Scout.
Alim Howell, 17, plays the drums during a service at the Zion Baptist Church of Ardmore. A clothing drive with eight locations for dropoff is part of his effort to become an Eagle Scout. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 01, 2013

The Rev. James Pollard Sr. often held Alim Howell in his arms back when Howell was a baby.

Howell was an energetic toddler who loved banging on pots and pans. Such youthful energy - that has carried Howell from Montgomery County to Europe - was on display Sunday at Zion Baptist Church of Ardmore, as Howell, now 17, gripped his drumsticks, sat behind a trap set, and let his hands go to work as 75 churchgoers listened.

"When he lets go and lets God, it's like, 'Go, Alim!' " said Virginia Pollard, the minister's wife.

A drummer in the church's youth choir, Howell remains on beat as he inches closer to reaching the highest rank within the Boy Scouts of America: Eagle Scout.

It's an accomplishment with impact. To earn the honor, Howell has set up eight sites for clothing donations. He'll then deliver the clothes to the Salvation Army during its peak season of need.

"The colder it gets, the more requests we get," said Robert W. Dixon, director of operations for Salvation Army of Greater Philadelphia.

About 7 percent of all scouts earned Eagle Scout rank in 2012, according to the Boy Scouts of America.

Jim Hasselman, Howell's Eagle Scout project coach, described the teen as "enthusiastic" and said his goal of collecting 1,000 items of clothing is "a little bit out-of-the-box" but a good service project.

"I consider myself a humanitarian," said Howell.

Howell started with the scouts at age 7, going through the rigors of learning how to tie ropes and perform lifesaving procedures such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Scouting "made me more of a man," said Howell, who grew up with two older sisters. Now he teaches younger scouts how to administer first-aid treatment and to whip and fuse the end of a rope.

Troop 243, based at the church, has about 15 members, with Howell as its highest-ranking member.

Dean Jones, 16, a troop member, said Howell "finds a way to connect all of us and gets us going."

Jones, who sings in Zion's youth choir, also complimented Howell's drumming skills, saying, "Sometimes I vibe to him more than the music, to be honest."

A senior Harriton High School concert band member, Howell received his first drum set at age 5. He had six instructors over the years who taught him how to strike melodious tunes using bongos, xylophones, bass drums, cymbals, and timpani.

Howell's talents in percussion propelled him to the international stage in the summer of 2011, when he was one of about 100 students from the greater Philadelphia region chosen to perform in an American Music Abroad tour of Western Europe.

"I was flabbergasted with what I saw in Europe," said Howell, a lifelong Lower Merion resident who performed before in music halls.

After one performance in Paris, people in the audience started singing "Happy Birthday" to Howell in French. It was his 15th birthday. "It was exciting," he said. "That was the greatest trip of my life."

Howell said he hopes to get into Pennsylvania State University next fall as a psychology major. He also hopes to play in Penn State's marching band or jazz ensemble.

Zion Baptist Church, 221 W. Spring Ave., is one clothing drop-off location. The others include Harriton High School, the Lower Merion Township building, the Ardmore Community Center, and Ludington Library.

Howell said he hopes to reach his collection goal before Christmas.

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