His first paycheck — and so much more — for Lower Burrell man
For many people, the day they get their first paycheck as a teen or young adult is a rite of passage. But for 30-year-old Chris Gott, that day means much more.
Gott, of Lower Burrell, is autistic and, until recently, was nonverbal. He struggled to communicate with his family, let alone a stranger, so getting hired somewhere was a challenge.
With the help of therapy programs and assistance from caregivers, Gott improved his communications enough to get a job at Charleys Philly Steaks restaurant in the Pittsburgh Mills mall, a place where he has always been welcome.
The first paycheck he received Thursday is the culmination of all of his hard work, his progress and his road to independence.
“I’m very proud of myself for working here,” Gott said, beaming with happiness.
Gott has eaten lunch there on most days for the past couple of years, and the employees have become more like his friends. When Jake Wing, a manager at the restaurant, found out they were hiring someone to pass out samples, he knew just the person.
“It definitely makes me happy,” Wing said. “It’s great to have him around.”
Gott’s mom, Clenice Vincent, held back tears as she watched her son open his first paycheck.
“It’s been quite a beautiful transition,” Vincent said. “It’s really helping him stay focused, stay at attention and just be a more independent person.”
Caregiver Denise Johnson has been working with Gott since he was 10. She said his progress over the years has been huge.
“This is going to be a great thing for him,” she said. “He has such a sweet spirit.”
Gott planned for weeks what he would buy with his first check — a statute of the “Image of Hope” from Sept. 11 that depicts firefighters holding up an American flag in the aftermath of the attack.
“I was alive when I saw the twin towers falling to the ground,” he said.
Gott often brightens the day for his co-workers when he’s on the job, whether it’s giving a high-five as he passes by or his eagerness to learn more.
“He’s a great worker,” said Sarah Fox, a co-worker. “We’re his second family.”
Cathy McDonough, another co-worker, echoed those thoughts.
“He makes the day shine,” she said.
For Gott, just being treated with respect and kindness — as he is by the Charleys crew — is all he and his family have ever wanted.
“Charleys is the best,” Gott said. “I love it.”
Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer.
You can contact Emily at 724-226-4680, email@example.com or via