By Emma Castleberry
William David, a 16-year-old junior at Christ School in Asheville, has earned international recognition as a 2019 Young Eco-Hero, an award bestowed by the nonprofit Action for Nature. Annually, Action for Nature honors 16 youth for their creative initiatives aimed at tackling the world’s critical environmental challenges.
Since 2016, Action for Nature has honored participants from 28 different countries through these awards. The judging panel is made up of a marine biologist; a retired nonprofit executive director; the founder and director of a program to introduce youth to nature; and two environmental community consultants. “The Eco-Hero Awards are significant because they honor and validate the youth who are striving to undertake successful environmental actions on their own initiative and without adult direction,” says Beryl Kay, president of Action for Nature. “William stood out because, after being successful with the Boy Scout movement, he went further and introduced and involved his community in environmental activism.”
William’s conservation work focuses around four projects: recycling hard-to-recycle items; Eastern box turtle conservation; invasive species prevention; and a French Broad watershed water quality initiative. About 1,000 direct participants have contributed more than 3,000 hours to these projects under William’s leadership. A dedicated student, Eagle Scout and servant leader, this is not the first award for William. His accolades include a Congressional Award Gold Medal; a William T. Hornaday Silver Medal from Boy Scouts of America; and a Captain Planet Earth Day Award from the National Society of High School Scholars, among others. “I have tried to be a dedicated community servant and make service a part of my life from a young age,” says William. “My family and other mentors have instilled in me the importance of gratitude through service and I’ve been encouraged to believe in things larger than myself.”
This seed of engagement was nurtured by William’s involvement in Scouts BSA, which provided “motivation, guidance and a framework for much of my conservation work,” he says. His school also played a vital role. “Christ School is quite unique in how they support the individual passions and commitments of their students,” says William. “Christ School administration, teachers and students have supported and actively participated in hundreds of hours of volunteer conservation work related to the projects I was recognized for as part of the Eco- Hero Award. I have the best job—I get to bring together great people.”
William credits Jonathan Marchal, youth education manager at the NC Arboretum, for inspiring his conservation interests. Marchal has been the primary advisor for many of William’s projects. “In the years I’ve worked with William as his conservation advisor, I’ve come to know him as a bright and motivated young man with a true passion for conservation,” says Marchal. “He has a commendable work ethic that serves as a model for his peers, and has been an excellent ambassador for the Arboretum.”
As far as the future, William will likely pursue a career in engineering. “I discovered my love of engineering through my extensive involvement in the FIRST [For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology] Robotics Competition Program and serve as a student leader for the team based at UNC Asheville,” he says. After this experience, he created a program that provides similar opportunities to disadvantaged students. In his program, volunteers teach robotics, provide homework help and tutoring, and offer summer camps. He also worked in partnership with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, AmeriCorps, Park Rangers and other conservation educators to provide a “STEM Outdoors” program—an environmental science curriculum paired with an outdoor adventure each week. “I am interested in careers where I can use science to improve our world and the lives of people,” says William. “The most powerful part of my experiences has been seeing how much more we can accomplish together.”