Poca concrete company uses trucks to raise awareness
POCA, W.Va. -- Calvin Wilson talked to his boss, Jeff Smith, a lot around the time that his son was first diagnosed with autism several years ago.
It's something that's hard for Wilson, 31, of Glenwood, to talk about.
"He was diagnosed when he was 21/2 years old. ... They said he'd never be able to function," Wilson said, pausing to maintain his composure.
In the office at Smith Concrete, surrounded by three other guys he works with, Wilson looked to the ground momentarily.
"You ain't got to cry, Calvin," joked Phillip Hayes, 44, of Poca.
Now, Wilson's son, 9, functions at an 11-year-old level and is defying the odds. His main struggle is with social skills. "Otherwise he's a completely normal child," Wilson said.
There's a misconception about people who have autism, and it's something that's not discussed enough, Wilson believes. To raise awareness about the disorder and support his friend, Smith had an idea.
A blue puzzle piece, which is the logo for the organization "Autism Speaks," is now displayed on the side of the mixer on three of the company's concrete trucks.
"[On] the first job [one] truck went to, a man who didn't know the symbol thought it was an advertisement for a type of mix," Wilson said. "The driver explained to him what it was all about."
The desire to bring awareness stuck with the company, which now has a truck devoted to all types of cancer, one for specifically breast cancer and another to support veterans.
"The cancer truck is my favorite," said Ronnie Fleming, 55, of Poca, who has worked at the company since 1978 and was diagnosed with throat cancer about a year ago.
Fleming is in charge of ordering the decals for the trucks.
"Jeff came up with the idea, handed it to me and I took off with it," he said. "It's something that shows we care about people."
Employees at Smith Concrete are like family. When Fleming couldn't make it to work during his cancer treatment, it wasn't a problem. His co-workers didn't mind when he would only come in and work two or three hours at a time, he said.
"While I was sick, they made sure I was taken care of," Fleming said. "Everyone has been real supportive of me."
Smith Concrete employee Karen Clendenin, 60, of Hometown, also survived cancer. The trucks solidify what she knows: that the people she works with care.
"We fight and scream but we love each other. This is a great place to work," she said with a laugh.
The community has noticed the trucks, said Misty Walls and Theresa Holcomb. They've received calls from people who just want to say thank you.
"One gentleman followed the autism truck and flagged it down to take a picture. His son has autism and he thought [the truck] was really cool," Walls said.
Smith, the manager at Smith Concrete, said the next cause they want to raise awareness about is diabetes, especially children with type 1 diabetes.
So it's time to order a new decal.
"I'll get on that," Fleming said.
Reach Kate White at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1723.