Birmingham VA offers more than world-class health care. Opportunities for service in support of others are available in the medical center daily. For over 25 years, opportunities to inspire Alabama’s teenage community have opened doors that connect youth with Volunteering.

For 2022, we are proud to have Bryson Gause as the first teenage student with Autism participate in the Summer Youth Volunteer program.

Youth Ambassador in Autism Acceptance Walk

Gause is an extraordinary teenager with autism who attends Midfield High School in Birmingham. He enjoys playing piano, running track, playing video games, and he even has his own YouTube Channel.

This past April, Gause was the Youth Ambassador for the first annual Autism Acceptance Walk in his hometown. There, he spoke at the event and led the parade. Before the walk, he appeared on local television where he shared his experience with autism, hoping to “garner support and raise understanding of people with autism.”

“I don’t think of Autism as a disorder,” said Gause. He explained he just has a “different way of learning.” His parents strengthen this perspective, encouraging him always to do his best.

“Veterans gave so much. I want to show I’m grateful.”

Summer Youth Volunteer program

Gause applied for Birmingham VA’s Summer Youth Program and was selected. The program offers opportunities for teenagers to succeed, provide a worthwhile service and find fulfillment. The program is open to all high school sophomores, juniors and seniors interested in clinical and administrative medical fields who want to gain experience.

This summer, Gause is working in the medical center’s Red Clinic with Red Coat Ambassadors. They welcome patients and caregivers to VA, answer questions, give guidance and screen for COVID. When he applied for the program, he said it would be an honor to help and serve Veterans as his grandfather served in the Air Force.

“Since Veterans gave so much for this country, I want to show I’m grateful and put a smile on their faces,” Gause said.

Encourage other parents to have children participate

Charmel Taylor, chief of the Center for Development and Civic Engagement, says her vision for this addition to the program is that other parents of qualified children who are differently abled will be encouraged to have their children participate. She explained that these opportunities could lead to future employment. There are exceptions to the traditional competitive hiring process where differently-abled people may apply and be hired for various positions.

“Bryson is an outstanding young man with a bright future ahead of him,” said Dr. Oladipo Kukoyi, hospital director. “Today’s youth have endless potential and this program not only benefits our student volunteers but also our employees. I always challenge our leadership teams to find ways to engage employees and this initiative has exceeded those expectations.”

VA careers all in the family

“You could say working in the medical field is a family legacy,” said Bryson, who is following in the footsteps of his grandmother and father, who worked and currently work at VA, and his mother, who is a nurse.

Within VA, Gause has a place to grow and develop his skills while giving visitors a chance to benefit from his bright personality.

By Barry Austin is the assistant chief of the Center for Development and Civic Engagement. Photos by Emily Smallwood, a public affairs specialist for the Birmingham VA.

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Published on Jul. 22, 2022

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