A fifth-grade teacher taught his students a lot more than math after making an Easter gesture that would last them a lifetime. Brent Walker, of Tampa, Florida, was a bit nervous that his plan would work, though he knew he had to try. He simply wanted to treat his pupils at Sheehy Elementary School. Instead, he made headlines all over the world.
A teacher's Easter surprise
As spring break approached, Walker was aware that many of the children in his class would not receive an Easter gift at home this year. He decided to organize a math-solving egg hunt in a bid to mark the holiday. He had been teaching his class about acts of kindness and wanted to endorse the message in the game.
He knew he had to think bigger
So, on Wednesday, March 28, 2018, just days before Easter weekend, the Hillsborough teacher headed to a South Tampa Walmart in search of plastic eggs and candy for his lesson the next day. But what he found there inspired him to expand the idea so much further and touch the hearts of many.
The Walmart on Gandy Boulevard had Easter baskets on sale for $10 each. Each one contained a gift of either a football, backpack, or some other cool gift. On seeing the display Walker thought how wonderful it would be if every one of his students found a basket on their classroom desk the next morning.
He knew what his students deserved
But his tight budget was not enough to cover the price of 20 baskets. However, the committed educator did not give up. He believed his students deserved a surprise and wanted to be the person to provide it. He quickly came up with a clever plan to make it happen.
The power of social media
Walker decided to use the power of social media and ask his Facebook buddies to help him out. His quick thinking triggered a sequence of events that would reach well beyond the classroom. “It was a very spur of the moment thing. It just kind of happened very quickly,” Walker told ABC Action News.
He wrote a candid Facebook post
With no time to lose, the savvy tutor posted a message on Facebook simply asking, “Would anyone like to sponsor a student?” In the candid post he explained to his followers that he was in Walmart buying candy and had discovered the amazing Easter baskets. His hope was that he would raise enough money to buy 20 baskets, enough for each one of his fifth graders.
Walker was not prepared for the rapid responses from his social media friends. He received donations of more than $1,000 in just a few hours, leaving him with enough cash to buy an Easter basket for the entire fifth grade, a total of 65 children. Friends and family praised his efforts, and words of encouragement flooded his page.
"You guys are amazing!"
The excited teacher was left stunned, and expressed his delight in a Facebook video directly from the store. “You guys are amazing!” he beamed. “Money is coming in faster than I can keep track of it, so my goal is now to get a basket for every fifth grader at the school.” His dedicated followers continued to show their support.
From 20 to 60 baskets
Five shopping carts containing more than 60 Easter baskets later, Walker was left with the head-scratching task of packing all the gifts into the compact trunk of his blue Honda Civic. So he combined helpful Walmart staff and skills developed from playing Tetris. Consequently, he could fit all the baskets into his trusty wagon before heading home for the night.
Walmart was moved by his story
Keeping his generous donors up to date, Walker honored his beloved car via Facebook. “A big shout-out goes to my Honda Civic. Even though she is small, she has proven herself mighty,” he posted. He also thanked Walmart staff, mentioning the store manager who had given him a further 10 percent discount after hearing his story.
"So many of them are lacking in love"
As the busy day drew to an emotional close, Walker expressed how grateful he was for all the kindness he had witnessed in such a short space of time. “I’m crying in bed as I write this, thinking of my students’ faces tomorrow as they enter the room and see an amazing gift sitting on their desk,” he wrote. “Knowing that so many of them are lacking in love, this... just this.”
Waiting for the students
The next day arrived full of hope and promise. Walker arrived at work early and with enough time to display a shiny surprise on every desk. He attached the name of the individual sponsor of each basket so that the child would know who had donated their special gift.
The students' stunned reactions
As the fifth-grade students showed up for class the elated teacher asked them to form a queue outside the room. “I want to see their faces light up,” he told Fox 13 News. He hoped that the surprise would confirm the message that acts of kindness could bring happiness. Their reactions were more than he had hoped for.
Shock and joy
As the children entered the classroom and saw the baskets, they responded with a mixture of shock and joy. One boy appeared stunned as he held a hand to his open mouth while another commented on the kindness shown by Walker’s friends. “He put it on Facebook and he has wonderful friends and I think they did a good job. Thank you,” fifth grader Johnnie Tyson told ABC Action News.
Paying it forward
And the impact did not stop there. One mom was so touched by her son coming home from school with an Easter basket that she went to Walmart and bought 20 of the same gifts for children at her daughter’s daycare. Aja White told ABC Action News, “It was something that I saw that I could do something good and I could continue the kindness that Mr. Walker was trying to show the kids.”
Never in his wildest dreams
As the story spread, Walker was blown away by the media attention he had attracted. “What a day,” he wrote on Facebook. “When I went to sleep last night, I was on cloud nine from the events of the evening. Never did I dream the story of the Easter baskets would be all over the Tampa news today.”
"It's an amazing profession"
But the humble teacher refused to accept all the glory, and referred to the many acts of kindness happening in schools throughout the year. “There are people doing this kind of thing every day in every classroom all over the country,” he told ABC Action news. “So it’s an amazing profession. It’s exhausting, but it’s worth it.”
The secret donations
He told Fox 13 how he hoped the generosity shown this Easter will push his students to excel at their studies. “People they’ve never met before are fighting for them and are encouraging them from all over the place,” he said. He added that two extra baskets had been bought for surprise recipients on campus but would not reveal their identity.
Making a difference as a community
The goodwill shown by so many people to students they don’t even know has inspired Walker to fund acts of kindness across Tampa Bay. He set up a GoFundMe page to continue making a difference together with friends, family and other donors. “I can’t wait to see the difference we all can make... together!” he wrote. But sometimes, all it takes is one person to make a huge difference in a child's life.
When Zoe Henry met Loralie
Walker isn't the only one striving to make a difference. When teacher Zoe Henry was assigned to a class of second-grade students, her life changed forever. You see, that was the day she met little Loralie. The youngster had dressed smartly for the occasion, boasting a bubbly personality despite years of struggle. Zoe was immediately taken by her. But the girl’s tough past wasn’t as unique as you might think.
Loralie’s difficult backstory
We hope you’re ready for the emotional roller coaster to come, folks! You’ll probably need some tissues handy. So, let’s dive into it. What made Loralie’s life so tricky before she walked into that class? Well, the little girl was a foster child. And like we suggested, her story is surprisingly common.
Yes, according to the ABC 7 website, close to 19,000 kids find themselves in a similar position across California’s Los Angeles County. Wow. That’s an eye-opening figure, right? In addition to that, over 600 of those youngsters require a forever home. Who knew the numbers could be so high?
A very busy hotline
And the jaw-dropping stats don’t end there. L.A. County’s Department of Children and Family Services’ Child Protection Hotline is heavily involved in this area, taking a huge number of phone calls every day. We’re talking roughly 800 as a standard figure. Holy smokes. How do they cope with that?
Ringing off the hook
Well, when things are at their busiest, some 90 welfare workers are deployed to keep tabs on the phone lines. Incredibly, they can be contacted 100 times or so every 60 minutes. That’s a lot to deal with. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though, the figures decreased rather dramatically across 2020.
A stark drop
As per ABC 7, the 800 daily calls dipped by nearly a quarter that year. But those working on the hotline in L.A. County weren’t the only ones to notice the impact of the pandemic. You see, young Loralie was affected by it, too, as we’ll discover a little later.
Ups and downs
Prior to COVID, Loralie had already faced her fair share of ups and downs — more than any kid should have to deal with, really. The sad part is that she wasn’t alone in that respect, though. The eye-watering figures from California prove that. And one other story in particular stood out.
Much like Loralie, a little boy named Jaxon was already very familiar with the challenges that can come with being a foster child. He entered the network as a five-year-old, and was still there after turning ten. The kid was hoping for a way out, but COVID only made that harder.
A good kid
Jaxon was a good kid as well — his school work was exemplary, and people couldn’t help but pick up on his loving personality. The young man stood out in a similar way to Loralie when she first walked into that second grade class. So, why was he finding it so tough to get noticed by families?
A psychologist offered their view on this topic. His name is Luwin Kwan, and he helps youngsters in the foster system. Speaking in December 2021, Kwan told ABC 7, “I think there’s a stigma attached to kids in foster care. Oftentimes when people hear that, they think that the kids are problematic and come with a slew of behavioral and emotional issues.”
“Just need love”
“[But] a lot of them have so much joy, personality, and just need love,” Kwan continued. “[The kids] just need someone to care for them and be their support, and love and nurture them on top of providing basic needs. They really just need more people in their corner and someone to just be behind them 100 percent unconditionally.”
The Heart Gallery
In Jaxon’s case, he and those around him were certainly doing all they could to find that special someone. For instance, the youngster was working with a group called the Heart Gallery — “a national traveling photographic exhibit,” as described by ABC 7. L.A. County’s Department of Children and Family Services arranged it.
The Heart Gallery’s goal was simple. With pro snappers at the helm, they’d capture shots of foster children searching for a family to adopt them. It was a way to get their faces out there. For Jaxon, he was paired up with a camerawoman named Brooke Nevin — and she recognized the importance of her job.
Nevin informed ABC 7, “I am an actor by trade and also I work behind the camera as a director sometimes as well. I know what it’s like to take a headshot. I know how much can be riding on one picture to have someone choose you.” An interesting comparison, right?
“Best feeling in the world”
And Nevin did have some previous successes to her name. She continued, “I got my first opportunity to do a portrait session, and not shortly after I found out the little girl I took pictures of had found her forever family. That is just the best feeling in the world.”
Back to Loralie
While Jaxon was still on the lookout for a family in December 2021, Nevin’s past experiences should’ve given him a boost. Why couldn’t he be another success story like that earlier little girl? Anyway, speaking of young ladies, that brings us back to Loralie’s tale. How did her journey compare with his?
Well, Loralie opened up during a chat with ABC 7. She revealed, “I was actually in foster when I was four. Then [I was] back in foster care when I was six. It was actually really scary, too. I didn’t know what to expect.” Poor kid! And her thoughts didn’t end there, either.
“Is there anyone waiting for me?”
Loralie continued, “I didn’t really know what to do. So I thought, ‘Well, like, what should I do? Like, is there anyone waiting for me?’ I was really scared.” But guess what? That fear made way for feelings of optimism and excitement when she got ready to join a new school.
Enter Zoe Henry
So, it’s time to return to Zoe Henry. What’s her role in this story? The educator went into a bit more detail about herself, and the day she met Loralie at the school, in April 2022. It’s quite the ride! Zoe was speaking on the Tamron Hall Show via a webcam.
A golden offer
Zoe said, “I had subbed at the school the year before. They called me and asked if I wanted to take over this class, and I of course jumped at the situation. My friend at the school said I was going to have her foster daughter in my class.” You can probably guess who that was!
“That first meeting, I’ll never forget it,” Zoe recalled. “[Loralie] was all dressed-up and ready to come be in the second grade. I have memories of her being so silly, and she just was very spunky, very passionate, very fun. We thought she was only going to be there for about 30 days.”
You see, it looked like someone was finally going to take Loralie out of foster care at that point. Everything appeared to be in place. Yet just like in the past, the youngster’s hopes were dashed. The interested clan walked away in the end, leaving her in an all-too familiar position.
A sad cycle
Loralie touched on the difficulties she regularly faced while speaking to the Tamron Hall Show via webcam. The kid said, “I never knew my amount of time when I was at each foster house. Everything changed, and then I’d just go to another home. It just kept going like that.”
“Let me have her”
So, it looked like that cycle would continue following the latest disappointment. But Zoe was desperate to break it once and for all. The teacher noted, “I didn’t want [Loralie] to go to another stranger’s house. And I said, ‘Please, let me have her.’” This wasn’t a snap decision, either — she’d been thinking about it for a while.
Love at first sight
As Zoe told ABC 7, “[Loralie] came into my class, and I took just one look at her. Her little freckles, her little birthmark. [I said], ‘I am going to adopt this little girl. She’s my daughter,’ the minute I set eyes on her.” Prior to that, the educator, who’s a single parent, hadn’t even considered the thought of bringing another kid home.
Quite a switch, right? But now we’ve got one more question — what else was driving Zoe on to pursue this? Well, following their webcam chats, she and Loralie appeared onstage at the Tamron Hall Show to continue telling their story. The mom had a bit to say to the host regarding her mindset.
Zoe said, “I was so in love with this little girl. I knew what being in foster care was like, and how much trauma [Loralie] had been through. I just knew that if I could have her, I could love her.” Is anyone else getting a little teary-eyed, or is it just us? And she didn’t stop there.
“As a teacher, you want to make all your students have a better life,” Zoe continued. “But when I had [Loralie] in my classroom, I knew the trauma and I knew the difficulties she’d already faced. I had a connection with her. I wanted her, I knew she was mine.”
What about Loralie, though? How did she feel knowing that her second grade teacher was now pushing to adopt her? Well, the youngster came clean in front of the cameras. Apparently, she didn’t see it coming at all, despite Zoe’s growing love for her. She had a few other thoughts to share, too.
Loralie told the audience, “I was surprised [that Zoe wanted to adopt me]. I didn’t expect her to say that. I don’t know what I expected. I didn’t know what my future was going to look like. Sometimes at night when I went to bed, I worried about [whether] I had a bad future or not.”
“Every night, I missed my biological mother,” Loralie added. “It was really hard to move to different [homes].” That’s a lot of emotional stuff to deal with, right? Most adults would struggle to get a handle on it, let alone a kid! Anyway, once Zoe made her intentions known, what happened next?
Well, that brings us back to the pandemic. Like we noted earlier, it made things pretty tricky here. Loralie and Zoe forged their connection in 2019, just months before everything went into lockdown. When that happened, the teacher couldn’t adopt her. Instead, the duo had to play a lengthy waiting game.
Looking back on that time, Zoe continued her conversation with ABC 7 in December 2021. The single mom recalled, “With COVID, things got a little bit delayed. The court shut down, and then once they [had] filed the adoption paperwork [there was] another delay assigning an attorney. Because of COVID, there were a lot of kids that needed to be adopted.”
The big day
“So these attorneys were backlogged with all these kids,” Zoe said. “It seems like it’s taken forever [but] I’m just so grateful for every little step that we’ve been through together.” Yes, on November 20, 2021, the wait was finally over for her and Loralie. It was a special day in more ways than one, too.
National Adoption Day
You see, National Adoption Day fell on that date. As good a time as any to do it, wouldn’t you agree? So, Loralie was joined by more than 160 other kids who were also welcomed into new homes on the day. Due to the pandemic, though, it had to be done virtually. Yet that didn’t seem to bother them.
Say hello to Loralie Henry!
After two years, Loralie could now say she was an official member of the Henry family. What a great moment! As for Zoe, she made an interesting comment about her adopted daughter’s biological mother. The teacher appeared to have a lot of empathy for her, as we’ll soon find out.
“Better part of her life”
Zoe told ABC 7, “There’s so many kids that just need homes, and they’re just waiting. I know [Loralie’s] mom really loves her. I know she really wanted to be a better part of her life. But like I tell [Loralie], her mom loved her so much that she would let her be adopted so that I could give her what she needed.”
The incredible story gained a lot of news coverage, with overseas outlets sharing it in December 2021. Yes, U.K. newspapers such as The Sun, the Mirror, and the Daily Mail all covered it via their respective websites. Meanwhile, the Tamron Hall Show posted Zoe and Loralie’s segment on YouTube in April 2022.
At the time of writing, that video has earned just under 4,000 views. It’s also generated some very warm messages from YouTube users in the comments section, hailing the wonderful tale. Away from that, though, we’ve got one last question to ask — what are Zoe and Loraline’s plans going forward now?
Well, Zoe provided an intriguing answer. She informed ABC 7, “We have a four-bedroom house and we’ve got a bedroom with several beds. And that’s why we go on the Heart Gallery [page]. We still have a lot of room in our hearts, in our home, and we want to open it up to more kids.” Watch this space, then!