These Boys Show How a Small Gesture Can Go a Long Way

A group of fifth graders make an effort to connect with a disabled peer - and the result is truly heart-warming.

Nov 11, 2015
Special Collections: CONNECTING HEARTS
James Willmert surrounded by his friends

James Willmert is surrounded by his friends who, James' mother says, have changed him for the better

Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of compassion, a small gesture of kindness to bring two people together. In the case of James Willmert and a group of fifth graders at Franklin Elementary School in Minnesota, this gesture was a simple invitation for James to join the boys at lunch.

James has a learning disability that sets him apart from the others students at his school, but this didn’t stop Jack Pemble, Jake Burgess, Gus Gartzke, Tyler Jones, and Landon Kopischke from making it their mission to befriend him. After James accepted that first invitation for lunch, the friendship only grew from there.  In a feature with KARE11, James asks Jack if he would tie his shoe. Jack answers “yep” and nonchalantly bends down to tie his friend’s laces.  During a game of touch football on the playground, the boys surround James, protecting him, as he goes in for the touchdown. "I love you guys," says James after scoring.

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The more the boys play together, the more they learn about James – his deep love for sports, the fact that he was adopted from an orphanage in Colombia, his abilities and disabilities. When they learned James didn’t have any video game systems, the five boys raised money for video games and a new PlayStation. James’ mom says, “he used to not want to go out for recess or anything, it would be like a struggle, and now he can barely eat his lunch to get outside to play with those guys."

In an elementary school in Minnesota, six boys have achieved something that nations and individuals alike are constantly trying to do every day around the world. They have bridged the gap between ability and disability, they have reached out to the “other” and found that, deep down, we’re really all the same.

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Mirele writes about everything related to doing good, with a particular interest in volunteering and social entrepreneurship, informed by her background in eco tourism.

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