June 24, 2009 Edition

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Nice boy finishes first:
Burgin honored for kindness

Chaz Burgin (left) receives a special award presented by classmate, Jake Hollister (right). Burgin received the honor recently at the Walnut Ridge (Ben R. Bush) Elementary School Awards Night.
Leslie Ginn
Staff Writer

Chaz Burgin received several awards at the Walnut Ridge (Ben R. Bush) Elementary School Awards Night June 2, but one award meant more to him than any other. It was an award given by classmate Jake Hollister for simply being his true friend.

Jake, who is the son of Lisa Hollister and Mike Hollister, has Down Syndrome. He and Chaz have been in the same classroom since kindergarten. There have been times when Jake has had a hard time with schoolwork or other kids, but Chaz has been there to help.

"Kids usually shy away, ignore or even make fun of others who are different," said Lucy Sellers, a Walnut Ridge Elementary teacher for 13 years and, presently, K-3 special education teacher. "But Chaz didn't withdraw from Jake. Instead Chaz has always acknowledged and helped him when he needed it and given him hugs. It is these small acts of kindness that has made a big difference in Jake's life."

"Chaz is a responsible, athletic and involved nine year old," said Chaz's father, Richie Burgin. "He is compassionate to others."

Leslie Burgin, Chaz's mother, said, "Chaz has developed a bond with Jake. He has always liked Jake and been willing to help and take care of him."

Leslie thought that Chaz's empathy might result from his own past medical experiences. Chaz had a severe heart defect and endured two operations when he was less than a year old.

"There are other kids who have gone out of their way to be there for Jake, but Chaz does more," said Lisa. "He will tell his friends when playing at recess that he needs to take a break, just to run over and see how Jake is doing or give him a high five."

Sellers said that Chaz is often able to help Jake when he is having a particularly rough time. "This was Chaz and Jake's fourth year together in homeroom," Sellers said. "Although separated when Jake attends classes that meet his special needs, when he and Chaz are together Chaz is aware when Jake needs extra attention or encouragement and he provides it."

"They were both in my class, and Chaz has never been cross with Jake even when Jake was difficult," said Amy Story, who was their third grade teacher. "The kids in the class watched Chaz help and defend Jake. He set such a good example that they responded by also being kind to Jake and re-directing him when he had trouble. This award touched my soul."

Sellers said she decided that there needed to be an award for students who go above and beyond to help others. She calls it The Sunshine Award and this is the first year for the award to be presented.

"This is going to be an annual award," Sellers said. "Each year we will give an award to a student for acts of kindness to others."

When Sellers called Jake up to present the award, Chaz became excited because he thought that Jake was getting an award.

"Chaz was so proud of his friend that he started to clap and clap," Leslie said.

"I was just really, really surprised!" Chaz said.

According to Leslie, when Chaz returned to his seat with the certificate his first words were "Daddy, can we frame it? I want to hang it in my room." It meant so much to him. It made my day. I don't think I've ever been so proud," she said.

When asked about Jake, Chaz said, "Yeah, I help him a lot. And we play together. He's a great friend."

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