By Michael Howell
The new kindling/firewood business that has opened up in Stevensville called Bubba’s Bundles is a special business in a number of ways. The most special thing about it is the young man doing it, Christopher Mosser. He is a recent graduate of Stevensville High School and is starting up a business of his own. With his dad’s help, he makes bundles of kindling and firewood which he has begun selling at various outlets in town.
One thing that makes Christopher such a special person is the affliction that he has been dealing with for his whole life. He was diagnosed with Autism at the age of three. According to his father, Gary, Christopher began to manifest symptoms at the age of 13 months, becoming very withdrawn and non-verbal. His mother, Kim, said that Christopher would sit in the yard and do nothing but toss dirt clods into the air for hours. She said he was becoming emotionally withdrawn from the whole family. He has three sisters.
Gary said that it was Ed Benecki, an occupational therapist working at the Stevensville School, who first suggested that Christopher might be showing symptoms of Autism.
“We didn’t have a clue what that meant,” said Gary. But they did get some answers and some help from the Child Development Center in Missoula. They got a diagnosis of Autism and they got help that has continued to this day.
“We would not have had a clue what to do without their help,” said Gary. He said the real story about Christopher’s graduation from high school and the starting up of his business is the story of the whole community that enabled it. Starting with Benecki at the school and all the people at the Childhood Development Center and people here in the Bitterroot who have stepped in to make a difference in young Christopher’s life. The list is a long one, but for Gary and Kim, these are the special people who altogether have helped their family cope with something that they were in no way prepared for or in a position to afford.
The first thing CDC did was provide a home based Applied Behavior Analysis program that was implemented by Abigail Reed. The program was funded by CDC and lasted 16 to 18 months. According to Gary, Reed began making progress with simple things like getting Christopher to clap his hands.
“She and Kathleen Hafliger went above and beyond the call of duty,” said Gary. He also had high praise for the Stevensville School District and their willingness to work with an outside agency to provide for a student with such immense needs. He said that Christopher was taught a plethora of personal skills at the school from pre-school through high school. He said Christopher learned how to read and write and some arithmetic and has developed to about a fourth or fifth grade level.
“That’s enough to be functional,” said Gary. He said para-educator Patty Jo Humphrey was extremely involved in Christopher’s development and growth from pre-school through junior high. Then, he said, high school Special Education teacher Kelly Thomas made great strides in teaching Christopher how to control his emotions.
“It was a phenomenal effort at helping him mature,” said Gary.
Kim said it was a long slow struggle. She said it took five years to teach Christopher just to ride a bicycle. Now, according to Kim, he can do his own laundry and cook for himself and he loves to work. Gary said that Christopher is very capable physically. He loves swimming and snow skiing. He can ride horses and dirt bikes. In fact, his dream currently is to earn enough from the wood kindling business to buy a Baha 200cc dirt bike.
Gary said that at the age of 12, Christopher showed signs of interest in his work as a contractor and started shadowing him around. He said now Christopher can operate all kinds of power tools and even operate heavy machinery.
“He’s been a great help,” said Gary.
Other people continue to get involved with Christopher. Jenny Walsh and Kathleen Hafliger, from the CDC, have been instrumental in getting Christopher prepared to set up his business. Matt Vanosdell, a para-educator at the school, spent his summer helping Christopher to prepare the business start-up.
People in the business community have also stepped up. Phil and Rhonda Henderson, owners of Stevensville Hardware, were the first to offer Christopher a chance to work outside the home and when they got wind of the kindling business they expressed a desire to be involved and offered a spot at the store for his firewood sales. Gary said they won’t take any money for it. He said Phil told him he just wanted to do something for Christopher.
Christopher, on his part, recognizes that he is not the only one with problems and he appreciates all the help he’s gotten, especially from the Childhood Development Center, and would like to give something back. So he has decided to give 10% of the gross income from his business to the CDC.
“This agency was instrumental to my success and supported me from diagnosis to graduation. My goal is to help other children with special needs,” it states on Christopher’s business signs.
Gary had to choke back tears when he expressed how grateful he was to the CDC and all the many other people in the community who have involved themselves with his family and their special needs. He said, “Without the funding and the help of the CDC this whole process would have been ten times more difficult.” He said the help he’s gotten from people like Nola Clevidence, Christopher’s current “job trainer”, has allowed him to continue to work outside the home through the process.
“I just can’t tell you how much we appreciate all the help from the CDC, the school and the whole community,” said Kim. “Without it we would surely have been lost.”
“Hopefully,” she said, “Christopher can be an example for other people that there is hope if you just never give up.”
Bubba’s Bundles of kindling and firewood are currently available at Stevensville Hardware and Super 1 Foods in Stevensville.