HANCEVILLE, ALA. – Wallace State dual enrollment welding student Grayson Phillips is an avid hunter, outdoorsman and loves playing basketball.
More importantly, Phillips also has a passion for helping others who, like him, are physically disabled. Phillips, who is currently in his fourth semester in Wallace State’s welding program, was born with Spina Bifida, a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly.
Spend a few minutes with the 18-year-old Phillips and one can see how nothing slows him down, which was one of the inspirations behind Phillips and his father establishing the nonprofit Outdoor Ability Foundation four years ago. Outdoor Ability Foundation equips disabled outdoorsman with any adaptive equipment, whether they’re interested in hunting, fishing, water and snow skiing or camping.
“I know the struggles people like me go through and they deserve independence with things. To be able to give them that freedom through our foundation is awesome. I want to show everyone that just because you may be in a wheelchair doesn’t mean you have to sit on the couch all day. I want to show people you can go out and weld like I do or go hunt, fish and live life and forget about the limitations,” Phillips said.
Phillips is a homeschooled student from Gardendale.
Through the efforts of the Outdoor Ability Foundation and his strong academic work, Phillips is utilizing scholarships at Wallace State he earned through Go Build Alabama and the Prudential Spirit of Community program.
Phillips hopes the scholarship rewards don’t end there. He is one of two Alabama high school students and one of 102 in the nation competing for a Prudential Spirit of Community Awards national scholarship. The scholarship is worth $5,000 and winners also receive $5,000 to donate to the charity of their choice.
Phillips will travel to Washington D.C. on April 28-May 2 to learn if he’s a scholarship recipient.
“The first scholarship was a weight lifted off my shoulders as far as paying for college. I’m hoping for the best with the national scholarship,” Phillips said.
Phillips enrolled at Wallace State through the Dual Enrollment program and has found welding to be a natural fit. He’ll graduate with his homeschool diploma in May and complete his welding degree within the next year.
“I fell in love with welding the first time I checked Wallace State out. I’ve always liked working with my hands, and I don’t think I could do well at a desk job. I’ve always got to be doing something active,” Phillips said. “I was as anxious as far the accommodations were concerned when I started, but I’ve had a cutting table made especially for me that is low to the ground. If there’s anything additional I need, the program finds a way to make it work for me. It’s been awesome.”
Wallace State welding instructor Jim Thompson has had many extraordinary students enroll and graduate in his program, and he puts Phillips among the top of the list.
“I’m definitely proud of Grayson. There are no boundaries for him. I’ve been impressed that he doesn’t have an attitude or indicate that he should have special treatment. He tries to works hard to become a better welder each day,” Thompson said. “One of the most important things he’s taught me is anybody can do what they set their mind to. He should be an inspiration to us all and is a great ambassador for Wallace State.”
Through his foundation, Phillips utilizes what he calls his tank chair when hunting or navigating the outdoors.
“You can think of it as a small bulldozer. It’s a power chair on tracks and can go anywhere. There’s an electrical panel at the bottom that helps you move it up and down,” Phillips said.
Phillips developed a deep passion to hunt when he was 10 years old after learning more about the hobby through television. He has hunted in multiple states and his largest haul has been a 7-point during a Fayetteville, Tenn., trip.
“I was called the bug man growing up because I would go outside and have these big Styrofoam boards and pin bugs on them. I used to fish a lot as well, but hunting is my passion. During hunting season, I basically shut everything down,” said Phillips, who is also an Eagle Scout.
Among the equipment provided by the Outdoor Ability Foundation are crossbow cocking devices, portable hunting blinds, fishing gear, skiing equipment and supplies for camping.
Phillips said the foundation receives applications daily, inquiring about equipment needs. Requests have poured in from all 50 states and the foundation does its best to fulfill all needs.
“The value of what we’ve raised is around $84,000. We try to do fundraisers each year with a fishing tournament and we’ve even had a deer tournament,” Phillips said.
Phillips is also a talented basketball player, participating in wheelchair basketball through the Lakeshore Foundation.
As Phillips prepares for his trip to Washington D.C. and wraps up the semester, he already plans to utilize his welding skills in order to aid the foundation.
“My end goal is to make chairs for the foundation. I want to make the power chairs or a variation and produce equipment in Alabama. Our closest distributor is in Atlanta, so I want to get it closer to home,” Phillips said.
With the track Phillips is on, there’s no betting against him.
To learn more about the foundation, visit www.outdoorabilityfoundation.com.
To learn more about Wallace State, visit www.wallacestate.edu
Wallace State’s Student Support Services group recently visited Nashville as part of its annual Educational Excursion. The group visited various landmarks across the historic city.
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