Wild West Balloon Adventures gets new sign through Yampa Valley Autism Program
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It’s not often that a teacher switches roles and becomes the student.
For Johnny Walker, professional builder and retired Steamboat Springs Middle School industrial arts teacher, and James Dickson, his student, those roles switched, thanks to the Yampa Valley Autism Program’s Strides Program.
“I am still learning more every workday from James,” Walker said. “I may be his teacher, but more often, it’s me who’s the student. He’s such a pure human being who lives his life without the ego and social filters that burden most of us in so many ways.”
“We made the woodworking part of his schedule to go to the workshop and work on different projects each week with Johnny,” said Emily Schweitzer, program director.
“I love woodworking because it’s like being an artist,” Dickson said.
Now, 22, and graduated from the Strides Program, Dickson continues to work with Walker two days a week.
Not only has he developed a lifelong skillset, he’s also found a new artistic endeavor. Dickson sold his wooden birdhouses at his booth at the Steamboat Springs Arts Council’s Holidays in the Rockies market earlier this month. He sold 20 birdhouses in three hours.
And this summer, he was even commissioned to create a wooden, handmade sign for Wild West Balloon Adventures by owners Bud and Stacia Whitehead through a connection from Emily Schweitzer at the Yampa Valley Autism Program.
“Johnny and I met with Stacia and tried to fulfill her vision for the balloon sign,” Dickson said.
The sign, he explained, took about three weeks to make. Similar to the birdhouses, he used a burnt wooden pattern to create the design.
“I was so surprised, because, first of all, James did it all freehand and that was really amazing to me because you can go put it into a computer,” Whitehead said.
The sign can be seen at the Wild West Balloon Adventures launch field from behind the Steamboat Christian Center on Dougherty Road.
His compensation for his artwork was a balloon ride Saturday morning with his mom, brother and Bud Whitehead.
“It was the perfect day for it, and James was so excited. He ran over and gave me a giant hug saying ‘thank you,’” Whitehead said.
“Every single time I would meet James, I would leave and my heart would leave so big,” said Whitehead. “He’s such a sweet, genuine guy who just makes everyone around him happy.”
“He shows the rest of us what it means to be a real, pure and raw human being, full of nothing but goodness,” Walker said.