Beaufort News

Heritage Academy student plans beach cleanup, launches environmental organization

It's difficult to imagine anything standing in Nicholas Wheeler's way.

The 13-year-old Heritage Academy student has been volunteering at the Costal Discovery Museum since he was 8. He spends about three hours Monday through Friday doing odd jobs, taking care of a diamondback terrapin and studying water samples.

If that weren't enough, Nicholas launched a new organization this summer -- Kids Helping Kids Help the Environment. Its goal is to foster a love of volunteerism among elementary-school students and to protect the environment.

Wheeler's first event with the organization is a beach cleanup from 9 to 11 a.m. Oct. 8 at Mitchelville Beach Park.

He expects about 150 people to show up and would welcome more. He has advertised the event at his school, at Hilton Head Island Middle School and at Hilton Head Island School for the Creative Arts.

Wheeler's passion for helping the environment began when he was 7 or 8, he said. He was at Myrtle Beach and saw a lot of trash, which he knew was damaging the beach.

"I really wanted to make a difference there, but I didn't have the resources," he said.

He's spent months planning the local clean-up event and gathering resources to make it happen, including asking businesses to sponsor the effort.

All that took a little more courage than he at first realized, he said.

"I just told myself, you have to do this. Otherwise this won't work," he said.

Jackie Wheeler described her son as shy but said the support he's drummed up has boosted his confidence.

"This is a really generous community, and people want to help each other," she said. "I think that's why Nicholas is rolling with ideas -- because no one is discouraging him."

He already is planning more events for Kids Helping Kids Help the Environment, including a salt marsh cleanup.

His knowledge of science has made him a leader in the classroom, too, Heritage Academy teacher and guidance counselor Dean Costakis said.

Costakis teaches middle-school science, and said Nicholas is always on top of things when it comes to class work. But his sense of humor is what really makes him stand out, the teacher said.

"He's got such a great blend of personality, intelligence and a desire to learn," Costakis said. "In the years I've taught, he's been one of the strongest, most well-rounded students I've had."

Wheeler said he'd like to study marine biology at the Florida Institute of Technology and eventually hopes to earn a Ph.D.

"I guess the sky's the limit with what he can dream up," Jackie Wheeler said.

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.

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