After William Chandler Vatavuk noticed that many students at this school were having trouble reading, the young man decided to pitch in and help. The 10-year-old boy, called by his middle name of Chandler, accompanied his school principal to a Durham housing project on his 10th birthday to tutor children, in lieu of having a birthday party. Since that day more than seven years ago, he has continued to mentor and tutor hundreds of youth.
At a Saturday Academy he tutored 30 at-risk children, many of whom live in poverty and have one or both parents in jail. The children’s test scores and self-confidence have improved greatly. To help disadvantaged youth, Chandler also organized, taught, and sponsored environment, wildlife, and science camps and a writing class, and volunteered at the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science, helping 202 children.
Chandler’s 4-H friend, who has cancer, was badly abused at school, so Chandler became determined to help prevent school violence. He wrote his school superintendent, Governor Hunt, and President Clinton to suggest establishment of alternative schools to separate violent students. He also wrote a newspaper article on this topic. For three years, Chandler has volunteered weekly as Durham Teen Court attorney to help troubled youth admit their misdeeds and repay society, so that they can learn to become responsible citizens.
When Chandler saw many classmates dropping out of school, he decided to try to get them to return. He wrote another newspaper article and a letter to his school superintendent and school board, offering to help solve the dropout problem. He served on the Durham Public School Task Force for Dropout Prevention, helping to finalize the school’s strategic dropout plan. He also served on the Durham Public Schools Student and Family Focus Group and Durham’s Youth Advisory Board. Through his speeches at regional, state, and national conferences on drug prevention, school violence, and dropouts, Chandler reached 2,900 people. Alternative schools were established to separate violent students, many dropouts returned to school, and school violence decreased.
Chandler continues to volunteer hundreds of hours every year in all these activities. Furthermore, through Chandler’s baking and selling at an area farmer’s market, he has provided four scholarships for needy 4-H’ers through a fund he established to memorialize his grandparents. After reading about all of the problems in Yugoslavia, he decided to organize a Kosovo relief effort to collect vitamins, clothing, school supplies, and toys to send to Kosovan children. His appeals to the Bayer Corporation prompted them to airlift $350,000 worth of vitamins and medications to Kosovo. However, even with many successful attempts to effect positive social change to his credit, Vatavuk continues his personal mission in life to help others. His motto is “Give to the world the best that you can and the best will come back to you.”
For more information on Chandler’s service organizations, please visit the Web site for the North Carolina State 4-H program at www.nc4h.org or link to the Durham County organizational site here www.durham.ces.state.nc.us/depts.html