Former Blue Devil helps keep N.C. green

Published 1:28 am Saturday, October 8, 2011

Former Duke University basketball player Steve Vacendak, executive director of NC Beautiful, addresses the Washington (evening) Rotary at the Washington Yacht & Country Club. (WDN Photo/Keith Mason Jr.)

At its Sept. 22 meeting, the Washington (evening) Rotary watched a presentation by former Duke University basketball player Steve Vacendak.
Originally from Scranton, Pa., Vacendak played as a guard on Duke’s varsity team for three years, during which it had a 72-14 record. The team made two trips to the Final Four while he was at Duke. In 1966, when he was team captain, he was named ACC Player of the Year. In 1980, Vacendak was hired as assistant athletic director, a job he held for five years before taking a job at Winthrop College as athletic director and head basketball coach.
For the past five years, Vacendak has been executive director of NC Beautiful, which focuses on promoting environmental projects, educational programs, research and general beautification of the state.
Vacendak and his organization value teachers and students highly and see supporting them as one of the best ways to ensure a better future. Environmental education is better than it ever has been, said Vacendak, adding that he is encouraged by that development.
“The next generation of young people are doing great with the environment,” he said.
There is no such thing as too much improvement, he said, and that is why NC Beautiful raises money to provide grants to help teachers with environmental programs. These Windows of Opportunity grants are for $1,000 each. The merit-based grants cover a wide variety of activities, programs and environmental stewardship. Eventually, Vacendak wants NC Beautiful to give such a grant to each North Carolina county.
One recent grant recipient, an elementary teacher in Kinston, set up a garden for her students to grow all the ingredients they would need to make homemade spaghetti sauce. The students harvested the organically grown ingredients, made them into sauce and sold the sauce at PTA meetings to raise money.
By fostering knowledge and awareness, especially at a young age, NC Beautiful hopes to instill a deeper sense of environmental consciousness in students so they will make efforts to keep North Carolina clean and beautiful for future generations, Vacendak said.
A nonprofit for nearly 40 years, NC Beautiful relies completely on donations. It does not accept any federal or state funding. The reason for that, Vacendak said, is that if it did, people making donations would essentially be paying three times — once with the donation and once each with their state and federal taxes.
Because of this, NC Beautiful runs on a relatively small budget, and Vacendak is the organization’s only full-time paid employee. The more donations it receives, the more grants it can give out.
“I love presenting checks to teachers. I love giving them support,” he said.
Anyone desiring to donate to North Carolina Beautiful may mail checks (payable to NC Beautiful) to NC Beautiful, P.O. Box 10155, Raleigh, NC 27605.