WEST ALEXANDRIA — It started out as a simple gesture.
Two high school boys would skip study hall twice a week to eat lunch with Antonio, an eight-year-old autistic student who was having trouble at school, as well as trouble with eating and gaining weight.
But that simple gesture has made all the difference in the life of Antonio, as well as two other students’ in Sarah Hamilton’s classroom.
Scott Kramer and Eric Shank, the Twin Valley South freshmen, stepped into “lunch buddy” roles and had no intention of getting publicity or attention for their time spent in the elementary school. They were just helping out a young student.
Hamilton snapped a photo to show Antonio’s mom his progress – he had become more social, he was eating better, and his confidence level had increased since he had gained two buddies. The picture shows Antonio holding the hand of Shank, while Shank holds the hand of Kramer. The three are walking down the hall together, lunch buddies for life.
The first time Antonio reached for Shank’s hand, he was a bit shy. But over time, it has become commonplace for the trio.
“I didn’t have a problem with it. We just reached for his hand, she took a picture and it went viral I guess,” said Shank. “We helped out a lot of kids apparently and we’re glad we can help him out and inspire others to help out those with special needs and just not to bully other kids in general.”
Kramer added that he was just doing what he thought was right.
“I really enjoy helping out the boys,” he said. “I enjoy going down and playing with them, going down to lunch and chatting with them.”
Hamilton has been nothing but impressed with the two high schoolers, who also play on the football team.
“I asked for one day a week and they come twice a week and they come for the whole length. They are here before the boys go to lunch so they have gone above and beyond,” said Hamilton.
Antonio says his favorite part of his Wednesdays and Fridays is ‘footballing’ with the boys. He cherishes his interactions and loves to play around with his new lunch friends.
The success of the lunch buddy concept – and the publicity it’s received – has allowed the school to add a third lunch buddy for the elementary school, this time a female to help out younger students as well.
“The lack of understanding creates uncertainty. It’s good for them to have a role model and it’s good that the boys serve as a role model too, because other people see them and it encourages them to step out of their box and get to know them too,” said Hamilton. “The boys came and have made a really big impact in what they are doing.”
Jeremy can be reached at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @jerskine_RH.