James Willmert, a fifth grader at Franklin Elementary School in Mankato, Minnesota, has a learning disability. He was also adopted from Colombia and his adopted father died six years later after a bicycle accident.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that children can be vicious sometimes and James was a frequent target for bullies before his classmates stepped up to help.
Five boys in James’ class took notice when their classmate was being bullied on the playground.
"They were like, using him and taking advantage of him,” Jake Burgess said. "Because he's easier to pick on, and it's just not right," added Jack Pemble.
Jake and Jack, along with their friends Gus Gartzke, Tyler Jones and Landon Kopischke, decided to do something about it and invited James to eat lunch with them and befriended James.
Mallory Howk, the children’s teacher, was impressed by their kindness. "It really kind of makes you proud to be their teacher,” she said.
James’ mother, Margi Willmert, was touched. “(James) used to not want to go out for recess or anything, it would be like a struggle," she said. "And now he can barely eat his lunch to get outside to play with those guys.”
Margi added: "They're changing him. We just got a basketball hoop last week because he now loves basketball.”
The boys also worked to introduce their new friend to video games. "We're like, 'Do you have any sports games?'" Jake explained. "And he was like, 'No, I don't have any video game systems.' So that's when I came up with the idea.”
Using their own money, plus some from their parents, the boys bought their friend a new PlayStation and some games to play. "Every one of them was smiling like crazy," Margi said. "I'll never forget it. Never.”
The five boys have been given the Spirit of Youth Award, which honors students from Mankato Area Public Schools, after being nominated by their teacher. But the boys said they weren’t seeking any accolades. "He's an awesome kid to hang out with," Jake said.
James said of his new friends: "All these guys are the best friends anybody could ask for.”
Image via KARE11