By WVUA 23 Reporter Erin McNally and WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Savannah Bullard

After school, some young men might choose to play video games, go to soccer practice or just hang out with friends. But, as darkness sets in on west Tuscaloosa, some high school students gather at the Tuscaloosa Career and Technology Academy to learn about welding.

TCTA welding teacher Matt Freeman has lead the students in teaching them how to transform heavy steel pipe and sheet metal into a grill and smoker. But, it is not just for cooking.

“The grill is really doing many things for these guys, and they may not know it yet, but the fact that they’re learning to give back to the community with their talents is so important and their attitude is so great on it,” Freeman said.

This grill project has raised a lot of money for Dalton Cron, a Tuscaloosa native who has Down syndrome. A couple years ago, he graduated from Holy Spirit Catholic High School and headed off to college. He just finished his second year at Clemson University through its degree program called ClemsonLIFE which, according to their website, is “designed for students with intellectual disabilities who desire a postsecondary experience on a college campus.”

The problem is, the program costs even more than regular tuition. The basic ClemsonLIFE program costs a little over $13,000, and that is not including the tuition, meal plans, tech fees and housing costs the school requires on top of it.

Dalton Cron’s father said as expensive as his son’s education is, it is worth every sacrifice to allow him to continue. He expressed his gratitude for the work these young men have given to help alleviate some of the family’s financial woes.

“Just having these guys that don’t know Dalton, they’ve never met him,” Bob Cron said. “They learned about the project, they learned about his opportunity, and they wanted to do something for him. And to have people just go out of their way to help someone they haven’t met, to do things for him that he can’t give back, it’s just…I don’t even know how to describe how it makes us feel as a family, knowing there’s still people like this out in the world.”

While touched that the Cron family is receiving help from these boys, Freeman said he was not surprised at all by the dedication the 17- and 18-year-olds have exhibited.

“I think we really need to stop and recognize how hard these guys are working toward something that is not even for themselves,” Freeman said. “They’re so respectful, they’re polite, they’re courteous, they work hard in their other classes, many of them have a very high GPA, they do well on the ACT and they have a trade.”

It’s a noisy and busy place in the shop, but it is not chaotic. Everyone has a job and they are focused on doing their part of the work and doing it well. Under Freeman’s leadership, the grill project is nearing completion. Grills like the one the students have made can sell for up to $15,000. And the welding team will not hurt financially, either; to offset the materials costs, McAbee Construction and Shirley Fabrication donated many of the parts needed to finish the project.

“It’s so fun here,” TCTA welding student Jordan Williams said. “We get to learn a lot, stuff we can use in the future. And we get to help out other people that maybe can’t afford some things.”

The students are learning not just about welding, but about how the effect they can have on others is worth all the hard work and dedication in finishing their projects.

“Life is good, so why not give back?” TCTA welding student Patrick Clemon said.

Thanks to this effort, Dalton Cron will continue his education at Clemson, where his dad said he is growing, maturing and learning to be a happy and productive adult. And that is the spirit of Alabama.

If you have a story you would like to see featured as a Spirit of Alabama story, please email us at spiritofalabama@wvua23.com.

Categories: Spirit of Alabama