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Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Elizabeth Kelly Goes Beyond Caregiving

Two people come together to help each other

For eight years, Elizabeth Kelly mopped floors, emptied trash cans and vacuumed carpet.

But she knew her calling was much greater.

“I love helping others as much as I can.”

So, when Kelly saw that Mansfield Elementary School, where she worked as a custodian, was searching for someone to look after a disabled student during school hours, Kelly didn’t hesitate to apply.

“I was like, ‘I can do this,’” Kelly said. “I’ve got that background. I’ve got that experience.”

A Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Kelly used to work at an adult assisted living facility.

“I didn’t think anything of it, because I’ve done that type of work, and I’m used to that. I’m used to dealing with people with disabilities,” Kelly said.

Fourth-grader Tyler Cooper has Caudal Regression Syndrome. Basically, the lower part of Tyler’s spine did not develop as it should have. So, Tyler is limited to being in a wheelchair, walking on his hands and scooting around on the floor. He needs help in the classroom and with his hygiene.

“I’ve done this practically all my life — worked with people with disabilities,” Kelly said. “So, when this position came open to help Tyler — to make sure he has what he needs to get around and be as normal as he can during his school hours — that’s what I wanted to do.”

But Kelly’s help comes at a cost — to her.

“I was a custodian, and custodians make a little more than a CNA,” Kelly said. “So, I lost out as far as the money. I dropped down — my pay scale dropped down a lot. But that was OK for me. As long as I could get the position and work with Tyler, I was OK with that. I let (the school) know that it wasn’t about the money. It was about helping someone. It was about what I could do for Tyler — and what Tyler could do for me.”

What can Tyler do for her? “He teaches me that love comes in all shapes, sizes and forms. Sometimes, if I’m feeling kind of down, I have to look at him and think about ‘How does he feel?’” After weeks of searching for the right person, the school’s principal found that person — without leaving the building.

“I just cried,” said Amanda LaFollette. “The school nurse just cried, because we had been praying for the right person to take care of Tyler.”

“It meant everything to me,” LaFollette said of Kelly’s desire for the position. “She wanted to do it not because of the job that it was on paper, but because she already loved Tyler. She knew him from having him at this school since he was a kindergartner. … That’s a big responsibility to take on, and she was willing to do it because she loved him so.”

Kelly’s “responsibility” includes being at school when Tyler’s bus arrives. She is with him every minute until he gets back on the bus to go home from the classroom — the gym for physical education and the lunch line. If you see Tyler, you will see Kelly.

“Tyler uses a wheelchair,” Kelly explained. “That’s what he needs to get around, from the first floor to the second floor. But, Tyler can get out of that wheelchair and walk on his hands. I’m there to assist him with whatever he needs. I take him to his classroom and make sure he gets in his chair and that he has what he needs to do his work while he’s in that classroom.”

Next year, Tyler will graduate to Mansfield Middle School — and so will Kelly. When Tyler goes to Mansfield High School, so will Kelly.

In other words, Tyler and Kelly are — and will continue to be — inseparable.

“It’s really setting up a dynamic for him to have someone that he is comfortable with — that he knows someone loves him,” LaFollette said. “This is not just a job for her.”

“He’s filled my heart with love,” Kelly said. “My heart goes out to him because he makes me smile. He makes my day, actually. Just to know that I’m there helping him, that gives me a warm feeling inside. He’s a smart little boy, and I just love him.”


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