New Hartford Teacher Spreads Smiles Across The Country For Girl with Autism
A special CNY teacher helped make the holidays so much better for a young girl with autism, clear across the Untied States, and the girl's mom couldn't be more grateful.
Teachers are very special people. In many ways, they play a huge role in the lives of our children - not just with academic lessons, but with life lessons as well. Sometimes those lessons make a huge impression on more than just the student. Jessica McNair - a teacher at Bradley Elementary School in New Hartford - is one of those special teachers.
Jennifer Ortolano lives in Washington State, in a suburb of Seattle. Jennifer has a very special 13-year-old daughter named Gracie. In Jennifer's words, "She is beautiful inside and out, has a spitfire personality, and more than anything, she wants to have a friend." Gracie has autism.
Jennifer took to Facebook to tell the story of Gracie's Christmas, and how Mrs. McNair, along with her class, granted Gracie's wish - from nearly 3,000 miles away.
"In early November, the time when I usually start to do Christmas shopping, I realized the only thing I wanted for Gracie could not be wrapped in a pretty red bow and left under the tree. I needed more. I need for her to have a friend.
I came across a post from Together Rising. "Holiday Hands" is an online community of pretty much miracle workers. If they have anything to give, they are matched up with people who have a need for the holiday season. There is also a section called "Together Letters" and well, my mind started working in overdrive. "Would it be totally out there if I request letters for Gracie?"
I put in the request.
In one hour my inbox was filled with requests to write Gracie. Many of the requests came from Mothers just like myself. Mothers who also have daughters who do not have any friends. There was also one extra special request from a teacher in New Hartford, who asked if it would be okay if her class wrote to Gracie. I was humbled.
Life went on as usual for the next few weeks. Then, one day when I went to check my mail, I noticed there were three letters in there for Gracie. The next day three more. By the end of the week, Gracie had a total of 30 letters. My mind was officially blown.
I put the letters aside, not quite knowing when I should give them to her.
Today, Gracie and I were watching the newest season of "Fuller House."
"Mom, I have a question?"
"Of course, what is it?"
"How come it is so easy for them to make friends and it is not easy for me?"
Suddenly, I remembered the pile of letters.
I kept her occupied while I went to grab the letters. Playing it cool I casually said, "Oh, these came for you in the mail."
Her eyes opened up wide with the beginning of a smile forming at the corners her mouth.
"These are for me?"
"It sure looks that way, it has your name on it!"
While giving Gracie her space, I washed some dishes from a safe distance. Making sure to keep an eye on her. She read every single letter while taking it all in. The smile that was forming just seconds ago, was now a full force beautiful, magical smile.
She felt she mattered.
I finished up the dishes and casually made my way over to her.
"Wow! That's a lot of mail. May I read?"
She handed me the stack of letters.
Again, I was humbled. Words from kids her own age, kids who related to the struggles of having no friends, shown brightly from the pages of construction paper.
"You are somebody's reason to smile!"
"You are worth it!"
"You are wanted!"
I quickly excused myself to the restroom where I had to wipe off my own fresh tears. Tears of awe, tears of admiration that there people out there, people who do not even know Gracie, but people who took the time out of their busy lives and showed what being kind is all about.
It cost them nothing, the letters did not come wrapped up in a pretty red bow placed under the tree, but I guarantee you those letters meant more to Gracie than any other monetary gift does.
Kindness only matters.
So, I would like to thank all the mothers out there who were able to relate to my struggles of wanting to "fix it all" with Gracie.
And, Mrs. McNair and your students, from Robert L Bradley Elementary school, I hope this finds you. I hope my words are able to fully express just how much your own words and the words of your students brought some Christmas magic to my daughter.
I will never forget this, and neither will Gracie."
Mrs. Jessica McNair is a teacher at New Hartford's Bradley Elementary School. She tells Jennifer she was more than happy to help, and that her students enjoyed the experience.
"I am so glad that Gracie got the letters! My students wrote to four different children through Holiday Hands & Together Rising. They will be thrilled to know that their cards and words of positivity were well received. One of the gifts of working with children is that they are yearning to make a difference. Please be sure Gracie knows that she always has friends at Robert L Bradley Elementary School."
Gracie certainly has friends at Bradley, and Mrs. McNair has gained a big fan in Washington state.