As Amy Hagadorn rounded the corner across the hall from her classroom, she collided with a tall boy from the fifth grade running in the opposite direction. “Watch it, Squirt,” the boy yelled, as he dodged around the little third grader. Then, with a smirk on his face, the boy took hold of his right leg and mimicked the way Amy limped when she walked.
Amy closed her eyes for a moment. Ignore him, she told herself as she headed for her classroom.
But at the end of the day, Amy was still thinking about the tall boy’s mean teasing. It wasn’t as if he were the only one. It seemed that ever since Amy started the third grade, someone teased her every single day. Kids teased her about her speech or her limping. Amy was tired of it. Sometimes, even in a classroom full of other students, the teasing made her feel all alone. Back home at the dinner table that evening Amy was quiet. Her mother knew that things were not going well at school. That’s why Patti Hagadorn was happy to have some exciting news to share with her daughter.
“There’s a Christmas Wish Contest on the radio station,” Amy’s mom announced. “Write a letter to Santa and you might win a prize. I think someone at this table with blond curly hair should enter.”
Amy giggled. The contest sounded like fun. She started thinking about what she wanted most for Christmas.
A smile took hold of Amy when the idea first came to her. Out came pencil and paper and Amy went to work on her letter. “Dear Santa Claus,” she began.
While Amy worked away at her best printing, the rest of the family tried to guess what she might ask from Santa. Amy’s sister, Jamie, and Amy’s mom both thought a 3-foot Barbie Doll would top Amy’s wish list. Amy’s dad guessed a picture book. But Amy wasn’t ready to reveal her secret Christmas wish just then. Here is Amy’s letter to Santa, just as she wrote it that night:
Dear Santa Claus, My name is Amy. I am 9 years old. I have a problem at school. Can you help me, Santa? Kids laugh at me because of the way I walk and run and talk. I have cerebral palsy. I just want one day where no one laughs at me or makes fun of me.
At radio station WJLT in Fort Wayne, Indiana, letters poured in for the Christmas Wish Contest. The workers had fun reading about all the different presents that boys and girls from across the city wanted for Christmas.
When Amy’s letter arrived at the radio station, manager Lee Tobin read it carefully. He knew cerebral palsy was a muscle disorder that might confuse the schoolmates of Amy who didn’t understand her disability.
He thought it would be good for the people in Fort Wayne to hear about this special third grader and her unusual wish. Mr. Tobin called up the local newspaper.
The next day, a picture of Amy and her letter to Santa made the front page of The News-Sentinel. The story spread quickly. All across the country, newspapers and radio and television stations reported the story of the little girl in Fort Wayne, Indiana, who asked for such a simple, yet remarkable, Christmas gift— just one day without teasing.
Suddenly the postman was a regular at the Hagadorn House. Envelopes of all sizes addressed to Amy arrived daily from children and adults all across the nation. They came filled with holiday greetings and words of encouragement. During that unforgettable Christmas season, over two thousand people from all over the world sent Amy letters of friendship and support. Amy and her family read every single one. Some of the writers had disabilities; some had been teased as children. Each writer had a special message for Amy.
Through the cards and letters from strangers, Amy glimpsed a world full of people who truly cared about each other. She realized that no amount or form of teasing could ever make her feel lonely again. Many people thanked Amy for being brave enough to speak up. Others encouraged her to ignore teasing and to carry her head high. Lynn, a sixth grader from Texas, sent this message: “I would like to be your friend,” she wrote, “and if you want to visit me, we could have fun. No one would make fun of us, cause, if they do, we will not even hear them.”
Amy did get her wish of a special day without teasing at South Wayne Elementary School. Additionally, everyone at school got an added bonus. Teachers and students talked together about how bad teasing can make others feel. That year, the Fort Wayne mayor officially proclaimed December 21st as Amy Jo Hagadorn Day throughout the city. The mayor explained that by daring to make such a simple wish, Amy taught a universal lesson.
“Everyone,” said the mayor, “wants and deserves to be treated with respect, dignity, and warmth.”
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