Every morning, students at Melba Passmore Elementary School in Alvin, Texas, file into the cafeteria for breakfast. For fourth grader Kenlee Bellew-Shaw, who has autism, it can be a bit overwhelming.
“She really struggles with being in the cafeteria,” Kenlee’s mom, Hollie Bellew-Shaw, told TODAY Parents. “There’s just so much commotion and noise."
Last week, the 9-year-old was in an especially bad place.
“We were rushing and when we rush Kenlee things start to go downhill,” Bellew-Shaw revealed. “She’s very much into schedule and repetition.”
Typically, when Kenlee is upset, she will rest her head on the table. But on Tuesday, she grabbed her blanket, lay down on the stage and began to cry.
Bellew-Shaw stood up to console her child, but someone else got there first.
It was school custodian Esther McCool, or “Miss Esther” as she’s known to the kids.
Bellew-Shaw snapped a picture of what happened next and posted it on Facebook, where it quickly went viral. In the touching photo, McCool, 36, is seen curled up beside Kenlee on the floor.
"All schools should be so lucky to have their own Angel on campus," Bellew-Shaw wrote. "Feel free to share so she can get all the appreciation & thanks she totally deserves."
The image has been liked more than 2,000 times on the school's Facebook page.
“Miss Esther spoke to Kenlee in a sweet, soft voice and gently patted her back,” Bellew-Shaw told TODAY Parents. “Kenlee needed that quiet interaction to take her focus away from the craziness of the cafeteria."
Principal Natalie Hoskins says what McCool did for Kenlee is just a small snapshot of who she is as a person.
“Last year, we had a kiddo who didn’t have family come to any parties, so she would come and be that student’s family,” Hoskins told TODAY Parents. “Esther will wash clothes if a child has an accident or gets muddy. She gives the best hugs. All she wants to do is help."
McCool, whose native language is Spanish, is embarrassed by all the attention she has been receiving. She says she was just doing the job she loves.
“I felt something was wrong and I went to make her feel better,” McCool said via a translator. “I watch after the kids and make sure they are OK.”
Though McCool doesn't speak English fluently, she communicates perfectly with the children.
As she told TODAY Parents, "The heart doesn't have a language."