Sometimes life doesn’t go as planned. But that’s okay, says William Mathew. "When one door closes, another one opens. There’s always a reason for things," says the 25-year-old man who works for the Catoosa Prevention Initiative as a project coordinator, helping young people avoid the pitfalls of drug abuse.
If life had followed the planned trajectory, Mathew would be living in the United Arab Emirates right now, working as a partner in the two businesses his father owns there. But it wasn’t meant to be.
Mathew was born on Feb. 29 – a leap year baby – at Hutcheson Hospital. He attended Battlefield Elementary and Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High, played basketball until 8th grade when he sustained a shoulder injury, then went on to play golf at LFO.
"I love sports," says Mathew. "It’s about a lot more than the games. You learn discipline, teamwork, good sportsmanship, how to work out problems."
But school was also about taking academics seriously. Mathew says his mother, a star basketball player in her school days, stayed on top of him when it came to doing well in his studies. Later, when he coached five to eight year olds in basketball at the Lafayette Recreation Center, Mathew passed along his mother’s work ethic. "We had a lot of fun, but I also let the kids know that if they didn’t do well in school, I would talk with their parents and they would sit the bench."
One of the greatest influences in Mathew’s life has been his maternal grandfather, Bob Clemmons. "My grandpa made me the man I am today," Mathew says. "He took me fishing from the time I was two. He taught me about guns and how to shoot." He also introduced Mathew to the world of radio controlled cars (R/C) and competing with them.
"Almost anything you can do with a real car you can do with an R/C," says Mathew. "You learn a lot – about engines, DC power. I worked with gas – nitromethane – powered cars, too. You have to work on your car’s engine performance to maximize gas mileage." Mathew and his grandfather frequented the race track at Winner’s Circle in Fort Oglethorpe, as well as competing other places, and Mathew’s first job was as head R/C tech at Hobby Town USA in Chattanooga.
After graduating from LFO, Mathew attended the University of West Georgia for a short time but didn’t care for it. He switched to UTC and graduated in 2016 with a double major – in marketing and entrepreneurship. "I loved UTC. I had great professors and a good experience there."
A week after graduation, Mathew got married and a month after that he was halfway around the world, in the United Arab Emirates. "I had a two-year work visa. The plan was that I would spend my first year learning the business and the second year getting to know the partners."
But UAE’s oil-based economy was suffering. The price of oil had dropped below a sustainable level for the industry. In December of 2016, Mathew was back in the U.S. visiting when he got a call from his dad – his work visa had been terminated. The UAE government had decided that all available jobs should go to citizens of the nation.
It was time for Mathew to start knocking on new doors. "One day I was looking at the Catoosa County website and saw a job listing for what I’m doing now. I thought my marketing degree would fit well with the job."
Mathew had not thought about working in the non-profit sector before, but he’s found that it suits him and has made him think more deeply about his future plans. "I like having this opportunity to help kids keep from getting into situations that could damage their future. We all make mistakes, but if we can minimize them when we’re young, we’ll have a greater chance of having successful lives as adults."
Looking to the future, Mathew says he wants to return to school to earn his MBA, either through the University of Florida or UTC. "From there, I want to work in corporate America and eventually own my own company and focus on social entrepreneurship – creating a company that helps people and contributes to the good of society."
Mathew’s advice for young people is what worked for him. "Enjoy the time you have now. Live every moment to the fullest but also plan for the future. Stay focused, take your studies seriously. If a door closes, just keep searching – another one will open."