Teenager Andrew Kirby suffers from a condition known as neurofibromatosis. As a result, tumors often appear in his back and head, which have led to him having to undergo some significant operations. His parents say that their son is a shy boy who’s fond of being alone.
Born to loving parents Kay and Tyler, Andrew is a middle-child. The rest of the family is completed by older brother Brock, older sister Goldie and younger brother John. “He’s a good kid, but he’s just different,” Kay told ABC News. “It doesn’t make him odd or bad. He’s very loyal and everybody that meets him loves him.”
For almost half a decade, Andrew always ate on his own at school. Every day, he’d sit there feeling deeply self-conscious, alone with his phone. And his mum would text him each day, wondering whether he’d found a friend to sit with. But Andrew’s response was always the same – he hadn’t.
Andrew’s solitary lunchtimes broke his parents’ hearts. Indeed, Kay would constantly worry about her son having no-one to eat with during his lunch break. “When he’d say, ‘No,’ I would have to turn my head a lot of time [and try] not to cry,” she explained. “He would say, ‘Mom, it’s OK. I get on my phone, so I don’t notice.’”
However, on the first day of the 2018-19 school year, Kay didn’t receive a response to the question that she’d ask Andrew each lunchtime. It wasn’t until she picked him up from school that afternoon that she found out why he never responded. And his answer delighted her.
Some pupils from the school’s student council had come over to Andrew at lunchtime and asked him to eat with them. He’d immediately agreed. Moreover, he’d found that spending his lunch break with fellow students was an enjoyable experience.
Indeed, Andrew was delighted to have been invited to sit with other pupils – and his parents were relieved, too. “We just wanted to say thank you to them for not being afraid to be a friend to someone,” Kay explained. “I would cry when I would leave him at school. It gives me peace and it just helps me as a mother [to see him with friends].”
And Andrew’s father Tyler echoed his wife’s statements. The couple described their son as someone who is shy, but a great kid once you get to know him. Praising the pupils who had made the effort to spend time with him, Tyler said, “Every day, Andrew comes home and you can tell that this has been a great encouragement to him.”
Moreover, the school council members made the effort to eat lunch with Andrew again the next day. They’ve reportedly even asked to have their school schedule changed, in order to carry on spending time with him during lunch breaks. It makes a big change from previous years, where only staff members would sit near him.
What’s more, Andrew and his new acquaintances have maintained a friendship outside of the school cafeteria, too. He was added an online group chat with the school council members, for instance. And to his delight, he was also invited to the group’s regular movie night.
Andrew’s mother Kay couldn’t help but share the news of her son’s new friendships on Facebook. Her lengthy post concluded, “These students may not have thought this was a big deal, but it was an answer to prayer and a great encouragement for Andrew. THANK YOU to those students, you made a difference today.”
The post was music to the ears of those who knew Andrew and his family. Moreover, it also captured the imaginations of those outside the family’s immediate circle. In fact, to date, the post has been shared more than 5,000 times and has received in excess of 18,000 likes.
Thousands of people took the time to comment on the post as well. One wrote, “This is heartwarming. I hope it continues and they become friends. I also wish for others to see this and begin reaching out to spread love and kindness.” Another added, “Thank you parents of those lonely students for teaching them they don’t have to be part of the ‘in crowd’.”
Tyler said that the family had been “blown away” by the behavior of the children. “High school is hard. We’ve all been there,” he told Fox News. “They didn’t care about what their peers thought, and they still invited these [kids] to sit with them at lunch. I applaud them that they would do that.”
The kids who made the move to befriend Andrew appear to have remained humble, though, despite all the media attention. Damian Haworth, one of the children involved, told Fox News that he wished they’d acted earlier. “We should have stepped up before, and more people should have, too,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to meet someone new. Just go out and do it.”
The impact that this had had on Andrew cannot be understated. He’d suffered a difficult adolescence characterized by solitude and major operations. However, his parents say that the 16-year-old now looks forward to school.
The news fits perfectly with the theme that has been set for schools in South Carolina’s District 2 region, which is “being a difference maker.” And it seems clear that the school council at Boiling Springs High School had a made difference to Andrew’s school year.
And the kind behavior of the four students who approached Andrew was even officially recognized. The pupils concerned became the inaugural winners of the “difference makers of the week” award. “It’s the little things count the most,” a school council member told Fox Carolina. “Something you think is simple can really change someone’s day, and maybe even their school year.”
What’s more, the group’s good deeds were subsequently praised by United States senator Tim Scott. He posted on Twitter to draw attention to their actions. Scott’s video message congratulated the group for taking “the time to make someone feel special.”
It may have been a small gesture by the school council members, but the reaction suggests that it made a big impact. Those involved said they hoped the media coverage would encourage other children to make similar efforts with their peers. After all, they might just make a fellow student’s year.