CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For many, Thanksgiving is about giving back, and that's what one Charlotte Eagle Scout set out to do.
On Wednesday, Nov. 24, William Fitzgerald, Jr. hosted William's Walk, a food donation event that collects food to feed families and restock pantries of Second Harvest Food Bank and Loaves & Fishes along with Troop 63 of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, Downer Law Firm and other organizations.
Celebrating its 20th year, the event was part of WFNZ's annual 12-hour broadcast event Street Turkeys, where donors can drop off frozen turkeys and canned and boxed food to the Second Harvest Food Bank and Loaves & Fishes, and enjoy music, food and other activities.
Why the walk?
The Fitzgerald family began attending the walk as a way for Fitzgerald. Jr. to give back to his community. He said it's one of his favorite things to do.
"I enjoy seeing friends and walking and giving back," Fitzgerald, Jr. told WCNC Charlotte.
Fitzgerald, Jr., 23, was diagnosed with down syndrome and apraxia at birth. His now one-mile emblematic walk originally began as a way for the Fitzgeralds to teach help him practice walking.
"His one occupational therapist suggested maybe to strengthen his pace he should pull a wagon," Fitzgerald, Sr. explained. "So we heard that there was this Turkey donor event. And I said, 'Well, let's put a turkey in there.' We towed the wagon. We did it for a couple of years. And then the third year, it became a community event. We're doing our normal thing as we walked across the street with the turkey. All of a sudden, it was like a bomb went off. Everybody's looking at William. Then it just blew up after that. Then the other two kids came around and they brought turkeys and the Cub Scouts came and they brought turkeys before you know it. It's kind of a neat event."
Fitzerald, Sr. has spent over 40 years as a teacher for students with special needs, including several years in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. He said in all his years of teaching, he could not find a more inclusive event than William's Walk.
"This event is led by a person with disabilities and people with disabilities share in the undertaking of it," he explained. "And when you come to the event, you see people from all walks of life. It is an inclusive event, and you get to meet and rub shoulders with a diverse population. And that's because William is a diverse person."
On Nov. 1, Fitzgerald, Jr. was announced as the recipient of the 2022 Shriver-Kennedy Student Achievement Award for his exemplary achievement, leadership, and service, including attaining Eagle Scout ranking at the age of 15. The award was presented by The Division on Autism Developmental Disabilities, one of the largest international organizations dedicated to supporting the needs of students with disabilities.
Fitzgerald, Jr.'s mom, Rina, said her son's primary mission is to give back to others. She said he has big plans for the future of his nonprofit organization called William's Community Programs.
"This is his life's work, giving back to his community," she said. "And we hope one day that William will be able to solidify his organization when he graduates from Winthrop University next year. He'll continue to grow knowing that people are interested in growing with him."
Fitzgerald Jr. explained how he hopes to be able to help others with disabilities.
"When I grow up, I want to be an advocate for people with disabilities just like me," he said.
William's walk began at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in the parking lot at 1410 West Morehead Street and ends at the WFNZ Jack Daniel's Dog House. Find more information about the annual event here.
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