Hometown hero meets special needs

Published 10:29 am Thursday, December 26, 2013

It’s not everyday you get to hug a hometown hero. Mark down a week ago Tuesday as the day for me, when I met an honest-to-goodness champion over a trunk load of gift bags and fruit.

Now if you’re picturing this hero in some kind of uniform or with bulging muscles, stop. That’s not the kind of hero I’m talking about. No, this one was actually wearing a black sweater, gray slacks and an easy smile. We found her doing good deeds over at Brookhaven Elementary, third door to the right.

The fact is, our group had an appointment for a good deed ourselves. Walking across the school’s polished floors, we came bearing gifts for students that aren’t usually known for having lots of Christmas parties – the special needs class. We met our contact/hero, Mrs. Earl, at the door.

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Once inside, I noticed the classroom looked a lot like others I’d been in – a flag mounted on the wall, the alphabet strung across another, half-finished worksheets covering a table. It didn’t take long, though, to realize this was no regular classroom. Only here would helpers named Tina and Ms. Daniels be straightening bibs and adjusting wheelchair settings.

One in our party brought a guitar, and boy, could he work a crowd. Bending to be at eye level with the kids, he moved from table to wheelchair to table, and back again. As his wife passed out bells strung on red-glittered pipe cleaners for the students to shake (a great idea), Guitar Guy broke out the Christmas song list. Kenan really liked “Jingle Bells,” while Dee, whose red hair was the perfect holiday accessory, preferred to belt out “Silent Night.”

I think everyone’s favorite, however, was a little ditty Guitar Guy had written for his daughter. It went something like this: “___ (insert name), ___ (same name). ___, ___, I love you.”

We were all feeling the love by the time each student (nine of them) and each teacher and aide (three of them) had had the song sung to him or her. And don’t let me forget the principal, too. She slipped in the room to check out the fun and found herself being serenaded with gusto as well.

After the music, our organizer told the class about their gifts bags – both individual and a big one for the classroom itself. She held up a box of tissue.

“Ever need these?” she asked.

A little girl named Tra Shunia giggled. Our organizer clarified the practical items were for Mrs. Earl to use next semester. The students’ take-home bags, she assured them, had “fun stuff, no tissue” – matchbox cars, candy, homemade ornaments, silly putty. The students smiled back. The ones who could, that is.

Before we knew it, we were at the door again with Mrs. Earl, only this time she was good-bying us with hugs. We were making our way outside when a college co-ed in our group mentioned her plans to major in special education.

“I start next semester,” she said with resolve. “I’ve finished most of my core classes.”

“What a ministry,” I answered her, thinking of the class we’d just left. And I was thinking of those hometown heroes back there, too. I sure hope Mrs. Earl and her helpers have a wonderful Christmas break.

Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.