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Despite disability, Collson says his calling is to help others

High Point Enterprise - 7/15/2023

Jul. 15—HIGH POINT — It's been 15 years since fifth-grader Will Collson starred in a United Way of Greater High Point promotional campaign highlighting individuals who had benefited from United Way dollars.

Collson's testimony was a can't-miss, feel-good story about a cute 10-year-old boy who, despite having cerebral palsy, was having a blast as a Boy Scout, where, as he put it, he "learned a lot of fun stuff" and his fellow Scouts treated him "like any other kid."

The campaign poster featured a photograph of Collson in his Boy Scout uniform, standing behind the walker he used to help him get around. A paragraph beneath the photo explained that the youth's experience had been made possible, in part, by the local United Way agency, which counts the Boy Scouts' Old North State Council as one of the partner agencies that receive United Way funding.

"We're always looking for success stories like that," says Jane Liebscher, president of the United Way of Greater High Point. "That's what compels people to give, seeing true stories of people positively impacted by United Way."

But here's the coolest part of Collson's success story. Fast-forward 15 years, and now he's working for the same United Way agency that helped him, coming full circle in his desire to lift up those who need a helping hand, the same way he was helped. The agency hired Collson as a campaign associate in May.

Collson, now 25, says United Way is a perfect fit for him.

"What I've always been passionate about is finding ways to help people," he says.

"As someone with a disability, I've been tremendously blessed with a family and a support system that has always been there to help me from day one, but I realize not everyone has that support system, and it's certainly not something I want to take for granted. So it's always been a passion of mine to try to use what I've learned from my experiences to find a way to help others — that's what led me here to the United Way."

Collson says his parents, Jeff and Laura Collson of Jamestown, did whatever they could to make his childhood as "normal" as possible, despite his use of a walker or wheelchair. He hung out with friends. He went to the movies. He loved sports and played wheelchair basketball. He played video games. And, of course, he became very active in Scouting, where he enjoyed camping, archery and wood-carving, and won a few Pinewood Derby races.

"That was a main priority for my parents — they didn't want to do anything that would hold me back in any way," Collson says.

He graduated from High Point Christian Academy, received an associate's degree from Guilford Technical Community College and earned an online degree in communication and psychology from Liberty University.

It was at GTCC that Collson became an advocate for the disabled, serving on the school's Accessibility Committee, which was responsible for making the campus more accessible.

Earlier this year, when Collson's job search wasn't going well, he went to The Arc of High Point intending to volunteer, but the conversation quickly turned to an internship opportunity, and he thrived in that role.

"With Will, you're getting a whole lot more than your average 20-something kid right out of college," says Stephanie Antkowiak, executive director of The Arc. "For people that age, work ethic isn't at all what it used to be, but we didn't see that with Will. I can't speak highly enough about his work ethic and his ambition."

So when Antkowiak saw a posting for a campaign associate position at the United Way, she encouraged Collson to apply, and he did. During his interview for the job, Liebscher remembers being struck by Collson's affinity for superheroes, particularly Batman. "He said he thinks he's a lot like Batman," Liebscher recalls. "Batman's parents were murdered when he was a child, but he used his challenges to do good and help others, and Will said, 'That's what I want to do, too.' "

Collson says Batman's story resonates with him.

"It's the same sort of principle of having something happen to you that is less than ideal or that you might not have wanted for yourself," he says. "But instead of focusing on the fact that your parents are gone or the fact that I have a disability, I want to focus on what I can do to take control of the situation and use it to help the people around me."

And not just people with disabilities, he points out.

"I look at this position as an opportunity to continue my work helping people with disabilities," he says, "but also to expand it to those who need a place to live, who need food, who need to learn about financial literacy or who have other needs that we help with here, so I'm very thankful for the opportunity." Talk about coming full circle. As a child, Will Collson was a perfect picture of what the United Way is all about.

And 15 years later, he still is.

jtomlin@hpenews.com — 336-888-3579

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