Jackson Bujnosek, 18 years old of Mountain Center, holds the t-shirt and autism resource booklet he created for the autism project he worked on in October. All funds went to the Coachella Valley Autism Society.
Photos by Jenny Kirchner

Amid the hustle and bustle at the Higher Grounds Coffee House, the Town Crier sat down with Jackson Bujnosek, an Idyllwild Arts Academy (IAA) senior who’s soft-spoken words were nearly overpowered by the sounds of the morning espresso machine, customers ordering and socializing, and the tunes from the harpist performing in the background. Bujnosek’s gentle demeanor was apparent and the compassion he has to help bring awareness to the world of autism is close to his heart.

His older brother, 21-year-old Beck, is on the more severe side of the autism spectrum. Bujnosek has been working on raising money for local autism societies and organizations for the last year and a half. Most organizations are nonprofits and have difficulty maintaining enough funds to expand programs. Bujnosek has given money to autism societies in the Coachella Valley, Ontario and Sacramento.

“We want to raise awareness about what autism is,” Bujnosek told the Town Crier. “In October, we raised about $220 by selling t-shirts and receiving donations that went directly to the Coachella Valley Autism Society.” 

During the performance of “Honk Jr.” put on by the IAA theatre department, Bujnosek spoke to the audience, offered free autism resource booklets he wrote, and sold t-shirts he also designed. 

“Honk Jr.” was a fitting performance to coincide with Bujnosek’s project. The plot celebrates being different and unique. 

Bujnosek wrote and applied for a grant through the Arts Enterprise Laboratory (AEL) Student Grant program at IAA to make the booklet and t-shirts a reality. The purpose of the AEL program is to provide students with an opportunity to develop and implement arts projects beyond the scope of the IAA curriculum, equipping them with the knowledge they will need to pursue grants on their own in the future.

The Coachella Valley Autism Society (CVAS) has also expressed interest in collaborating with Bujnosek. While planning is still in the beginning stages, Bujnosek said CVAS will send some of their staff to IAA in January to talk about what they do and set up a raffle to help raise money. 

According to their website, the mission of CVAS is to promote lifelong access and opportunities for individuals within the autism spectrum and their families — providing advocacy, public awareness, education and research related to autism. 

All of their programs and services are free of charge to individuals dealing with autism. 

“When we were younger, there were a lot of issues finding programs for my brother and a lack of resources at home as well,” Bujnosek said. “So what we wanted to do was raise awareness about that so people would know about it. I want to continue this into college and make more formal events about those specific issues so that it could have change on a higher level.”

Bujnosek graduates from IAA in 2020 and is applying to the University of California, San Diego.