In the complexities of robotics and rewards of volunteering, Clayton Summerall-McNabb finds calm in the midst of personal storms.
The 16-year-old Dickinson High School junior is in his third year as part of the Gatorzillas robotics competition team. He also helps mentor elementary school students in LEGO robot competitions and volunteers for community service projects.
But behind his good works lurks a season of pain. In the past two years, his mother has gone through multiple surgeries as she battles breast cancer; his sister has been diagnosed with paralyzing Guillain-Barre syndrome, and his own raging headaches have been traced back to a tumor near his optic nerve.
Summerall-McNabb has risen above the difficulties, according to his family.
“Clayton not only supported his family and stepped up as a son and brother, he kept his grades good, continued with his activities, and in general all with a smile on his face as he made sure we wanted for nothing,” wrote his mother, Faith McNabb, in a nominating letter.
For his volunteer and mentor work in the community, Summerall-McNabb has been named a 2013 Everyday Hero. He joins others selected by The Galveston County Daily News from across the county who were honored recently at a reception.
The teen has a simple motto: “Just keep going,” he said, speaking from his Dickinson home. “You want to keep surviving. Face every day like it’s your last.”
Summerall-McNabb always has been a willing volunteer, helping tutor fellow students, mowing lawns and helping in community projects.
“Since I was really little, I felt like I was meant to help others,” he said.
When his mother’s cancer treatment led to complications and surgeries, Summerall-McNabb needed an outlet from the stress.
“That’s where robotics kicked in,” he said. “I can do this and not have to think about that.”
He is outreach officer, mechanic and driver on the 17-member Gatorzillas team that designed, prototyped and built a fully functional robot for the 2013 Lonestar Regional FIRST Robotics Competition. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a mentor-based program that builds science, engineering and technology skills.
Summerall-McNabb also mentors younger students in robotics, using LEGO motorized kits.
“It’s great to see students come from barely knowing what a motor is to being able to build a robot,” he said.
“Robotics takes intelligence and compassion and everything you would possibly need at a time like this.”
The teen now faces testing and treatment for the tumor that has caused headaches and nausea for some time now. His parents draw strength from their son’s attitude.
“He is our shining light, and we will rally around him,” his mother said.
“He will get through this with flying colors.”