MIDDLEPORT — A teen with Asperger Syndrome has defied the odds of living a normal life and his parents attribute his success to Scouting.
David Vanderwalker, son of Todd and Alicia Vanderwalker, was born with the neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the ability to interact and communicate with people.
David, now 15 and a sophomore at Medina High School, was on the autism spectrum and as a young boy had some extreme behaviors and a lack of social skills.
Things changed after David's parents signed him up for Scouting in first grade.
“We felt it would help him develop social skills and learn appropriate interactions,” Alicia Vanderwalker said. “Our family is very hands-on and loves the outdoors, which we felt would be part of Scouting. The first year was a nightmare. David was all over, refusing to interact with the boys and every meeting was a meltdown. That all changed when David went to summer camp, and shortly after, David attended his first Eagle Scout ceremony.”
He came home and told his parents he wanted to be an Eagle Scout.
“David’s behavior plan became the Scout Law,” Alicia said. “Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. We incorporated that into David’s goals, working with him to understand that to become an Eagle Scout, he had to follow the Scout Law.”
“That changed his whole perspective,” Alicia said. “Our family believes David is where he is today because of Scouting.”
David has already accomplished many things through scouting. For his Life Project, he helped redo the children’s wing at Hartland Bible Church in Gasport and built an ark book/toy shelf in the toddler room.
Scouting became a major part of David’s life, to the point he has worked his way up the ranks.
“Having a role and responsibility has enabled David to thrive,” Alicia said. “He has worked really hard, earning 36 merit badges so far, as well as holding positions of quartermaster, chaplain’s aide, troop guide and now assistant senior patrol leader. Being a Boy Scout has helped David earn life skills that will take him into the workforce and hone the talents he has to serve others.”
When it came time for him to choose a project for his Eagle Award, David knew just what he wanted to do.
“I have had a dream since first grade to become an Eagle Scout, and am now in the final stages of making my dream a reality,” David wrote in a letter asking for community support for his project. “For my project I have chosen to build a 24’ by 40’ pavilion at my church, with an enclosed area 24’ by 16’ off the end for storage.”
“David presented his idea to us, and we were thrilled,” said Pastor Jon Goodwin of Hartland Bible Church. “We have desperately needed storage space for some time. David’s proposed pavilion meets our needs on multiple levels.”
David explained that the pavilion would allow his church to plan picnics, outdoor services, youth events, Vacation Bible School activities, weddings and concerts without concern for the weather. He also said it would benefit the community by providing a safe shelter for their use. The enclosed area he hopes to build on the end will be for tables and chairs, which currently have to be brought up the hill from the church for any event.
David is facing a big hurdle to reach his goal, however. He needs help in raising enough money to purchase the building materials, an estimated $10,000. He is currently about halfway there, he said Sunday at the church, where he and his family and the pastor were cutting down trees on the church property to have made into posts for the pavilion.
David spent hours making a model of his pavilion and determining the needed materials. He said if anyone in the community can help with donations in any way, it will not only help him achieve his dream, but will create a pavilion that will be used for generations by his church, the community and athletes.
Ten pressure-treated posts for the main pavilion have been donated, as have 80 2x4x16-foot boards for bracing, 50 2x6x8-foot boards for shed walls and 25 80-pound bags of concrete mix. Two loads of stone have been committed by a donor as well.
David still needs: eight treated 2x10x20 headers for sides; five treated 4x6x12 posts for the shed; 10 2x8x16 facia; 13 10-to 12-inch x 18-food laminated I joists; 10 2x10x16 beams for the shed; one roll of 6 mil. plastic, 100-by-20 feet; two boxes of galvanized ribbed 30-degree framing nails; 25 pounds of 3-inch construction screws; 22 hurricane clips; 25 more bags of concrete mix; 50 10-inch carriage bolts; 50 1/2-inch washers and nuts; 180 feet of brown soffit; 17 yards of concrete; one garage door, eight feet wide; and one 36-inch exterior door with a frame.
He also needs 11 24-foot trusses or a donation of $350. Metal roofing needed is 28 16x3-foot sheets, nine 18x3-foot sheets and trim, or a donation of $1,400.
Anyone who wishes to donate materials or cash to David's project may call him at (716) 989-7381 or give through his mom’s PayPal account at firstname.lastname@example.org, noted “David Eagle.”
In the event there is money or material left over when the project is complete, it will be donated to Hartland Bible Church for further work on the pavilion, such as hooking up electric service.
David hope to go to BOCES to study either building trades or welding. He already has a lot of construction knowledge, having built his own workshop and tree house, among other things. His goal is to someday own his own construction company.