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Scouting program has major impact on boy with Asperger’s

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 31 August 2020 at 9:33 am

David Vanderwalker is working on his Eagle Scout project

Photos by Ginny Kropf: David Vanderwalker presents his project to build a pavilion at Hartland Bible Church to the congregation. He is building the pavilion for his Eagle Scout badge, something which has been a lifelong dream.

MIDDLEPORT – No one knows better what Scouting can do for a boy than the family of David Vanderwalker of Middleport.

David, 15, is a son of Todd and Alicia Vanderwalker. David is a sophomore at Medina High School and a member of Boy Scout Troop 28 at the United Methodist Church in Medina.

David was born with Asperger’s syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disability which affects the ability to interact and communicate with people.

David was on the autism spectrum and had some extreme behaviors and lack of social skills as a young boy, according to his mother.

“We put David into Scouts in the first grade because 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, refused 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.”

It then became David’s dream to become an Eagle Scout. David’s behavior plan became the 12 Scout laws, which are bring 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,” Alicia said. “We have no doubt David is where he is today because of Scouting.”

She shared the life-changing impact of Scouting on her son recently with members of United Way when the Scouts were interviewed for their upcoming allocation. The Boy Scouts are one of 15 agencies or programs that receive funding from the United Way of Orleans County. David’s story is just one of the cases Orleans Hub is featuring in a series of success stories made possible as a result of funding from United Way.

Jim McMullen, executive director of the Iroquois Trail Council with the Boy Scouts of America, commented on the importance of United Way’s support to the Scouting program, and the dedication of volunteers, such as Todd and Alicia Vanderwalker.

“We’re blessed to have many local volunteer leaders who make the Scouting program possible,” McMullen said. “They help bring this wonderful program to life for other local families. We’re grateful also to have the support of United Way. We use those funds to pay for invitations to new families to join Scouting, for program supplies, to train Scout leaders and to help our Scouts with camp scholarships. Without United Way, there would surely be fewer families who would benefit from Scouting programs.”

Members of David Vanderwalker’s family and Hartland Bible Church tear down a rotted pavilion on church grounds, where David is working to build a new pavilion as his Eagle Scout project.

The Vanderwalkers as a family have spent much of the last 10 years on the Scouting journey with David. Mom and dad became the cubmasters when David was in second grade, and Alicia is still cubmaster for Pack 28 today, as well as the chaplain and a leader for the Boy Scout troop. They wish other families could see the value of volunteering and walking this journey with their son, as it goes by so fast.

David continued in Scouting, earning his Arrow of Light in 2015, the highest rank in Cub Scouts, and then crossed over into the Boy Scout Troop.

“David’s journey has not always been easy, and he has had to overcome a lot of obstacles, as has his troop,” Alicia said.

This is the model of the pavilion David Vanderwalker is working to build at his church as his Eagle Scout project.

David has had help from his family and fellow scouts Aaron Miller and Christian Hahn, both of whom are now Eagle Scouts. Scoutmaster Tim Miller really took David under his wing. He helped teach the Troop awareness of disabilities and helped the boys see life through David’s eyes, making David feel more understood.

“Having a role and responsibility has enabled David to thrive,” his mother 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.”

David has already accomplished many projects. For his Life Project, he helped redo the children’s wing at his church and built an ark book/toy shelf in the toddler room.

During a summer picnic at church, however, David decided to embark on his biggest project ever. For his Eagle Scout badge, he came up with the idea to build a pavilion/storage building on church grounds.

“We were having a summer picnic at church and David was helping move tables and chairs up the hill, when David realized it would be helpful to have a pavilion and storage up top so the church could have picnics in any weather, the youth group and Vacation Bible school could use it and it would fill so many needs,” Alicia said.

David created a model of the pavilion he would like to build and presented the idea to the church leadership, and then the congregation, who were all fully supportive.

“I have had a dream since first grade of becoming an Eagle Scout, and am now in the final stages of making my dream a reality,” David wrote in a letter asking for support for his project. “I have chosen to build a 24’ by 40’ pavilion at my church, with an enclosed area off the end for storage.”

“David presented his idea to us, and we were thrilled,” said pastor Jon Goodwin. “We have desperately needed storage space for some time. David’s proposed pavilion will meet our needs in multiple levels.”

David Vanderwalker’s family and their pastor cut down trees on the grounds of Hartland Bible Church in Gasport, which they plan to use for posts for a pavilion David is working to build as his Eagle Scout project. From left are David’s father Todd Vanderwalker, David, pastor Jon Goodwin, David’s mom Alicia and sister Faith Ann.

David faces a big hurdle, however, in reaching his goal. He needs help in raising enough money to purchase the materials needed, an estimated $10,000. He is currently about half way, he said at the church, where he and his family and pastor Goodwin were cutting down trees on the church property which they will saw into posts for the pavilion.

David has spent hours making the model of his pavilion and determining the materials needed. He is asking anyone in the community who can help to make donations in any way, either in materials or money. He said it will not only help him achieve his dream, but will create a pavilion which 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’ boards for bracing, 50 2x6x8s for shed walls and 25 80-pound bags of concrete mix. He has a commitment for a donation of two loads of stone.

He still needs eight treated 2x10x20 headers for sides; five treated 4xd6x12 posts for the shed; 10 2x8x16 facia; 13 10- to 12-inch x 18’ laminated I joists; 10 2x10x16 beams for shed; one roll of 6 mil. plastic 100’ x 20’; two boxes of galvanized ribbed 30-degree framing nails; 25 pounds of 3” construction screws; 22 hurricane clips; 25 more bags of concrete mix; 50 10” carriage bolts; 50 ½” washers and nuts; 180 feet of brown soffit; 17 yards of concrete; one garage door eight feet wide; and one 36” exterior door with frame.

He also needs 11 24’ trusses or donations of $350. Metal roofing needed is 28 16’x3’ sheets, nine 18’x3’ sheets and trim, or a donation of $1,400.

Anyone who wishes to help David with donations of material or cash may contact him at (716) 989-7381 or donations may be made through his mother’s PayPal account at poohbear072702@yahoo.com and noted “David Eagle.”

David hopes 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 own his own construction company.

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