Cape Girardeau kindergarten teacher honors student’s memory by helping comfort others

A special toy is now on-hand to help children having a tough time
A Cape Girardeau kindergarten teacher finds a special way to honor one of her students, and help others at the same time
Updated: Dec. 22, 2022 at 9:45 PM CST
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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) - Mrs. Neels loves teaching kindergarten at Alma Schrader Elementary in Cape Girardeau.

“This is my 11th year,” said Lindsey Neels.

She teaches at the same school, and in the same classroom where her mother taught for many years.

She has a big heart for her students, loving them and the other children in the school like family.

“We got a phone call from school,” said Markease Hall.

Markease Hall remembers that call well a few weeks ago.

“They had to roll the cameras back to see she tripped over her feet and fell face first,” said Hall.

His daughter, Makailah, had a pretty rough start to her day at Alma Schrader.

“Well, I stand up to go to my classroom and tripped over my, the side of my shoe and my head busted open,” said Makailah Hall.

She needed to go the hospital to see if she needed stiches.

“One of our other teachers grabbed Snoopy and gave it to her and she just clung to it,” said Mrs. Neels.

You see, Snoopy at Alma Schrader is more than just any stuffed animal.

“She grabbed that Snoopy and never let go,” said Carrie Williams. “He went everywhere with us.”

Carrie Williams and her husband Elliott Williams light up and smile ear-to-ear when they talk about their three children.

The entire family loves talking about the youngest of the children, Averie.

Averie loved life.

She loved singing and learning and talking about her faith.

She also loved Snoopy.

When Averie was a baby she found a Snoopy stuffed animal in her brother’s room, and never let go of it.

It became her best friend.

“She took him everywhere she went, and I do mean everywhere,” said Elliott Williams, Averie’s dad. “I mean from the beach, the lake, even her surgeries. He was more than just her little buddy. He was a prop for her where she could grab him and manipulate him and hold him where she could breathe better, sit up better, to watch her iPad better.”

When Carrie Williams was pregnant with Averie, she had a feeling something was different.

“I had a mother’s instinct,” said Carrie Williams.

When Averie was about three months old, she was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome.

“It is normally a genetic condition, hers was not,” said Carrie Williams. “Hers was a random spontaneous mutation that affects the connective tissue in the body.”

It affected Averie’s little body in many ways from her muscles, her vision, to her lungs and heart.

“You would never know it though because she would never complain,” said Carrie Williams. “Mentally she was extremely bright.”

Which is why she was so excited to start kindergarten two years ago at Alma Schrader.

“She loved going to school,” said Carrie Williams.”She talked about Mrs. Neels and she talked about her friends.”

A couple of months into the school year, Averie became too weak to come to the classroom.

So, her teachers brought school to her home.

“I remember, I told Carrie I would camp in your front yard if that’s what you want me to do,” said Mrs. Neels. “So, we started weekly visits where we would go over and play games. We set up a Zoom so she could Zoom into our classroom and see her friends.”

Her parents were so touched that the teachers and staff at the school cared about their child so much.

“They loved her and it was evident in the way they cared for her,” said Carrie Williams.

In November of that year, Averie Williams passed away.

She was six years old.

Her loss left a huge void at home and at the school she loved so much.

“She was just very special and she touched the lives of a lot of people that met her,” said Elliott Williams. ”She was just a blessing, a true blessing.”

“I knew immediately we wanted to do something permanent for her here,” said Mrs. Neels.

They quickly, in just a matter of hours, raised the money need for a bench at the school in Averie’s memory.

Mrs. Neels knew, Snoopy needed to be there too.

“I sat it on the bench when we initially got it,” said Mrs. Neels. “I see kids snuggling with it and it’s a comfort for everyone.”

That includes students like Makailah who took Snoopy with her to the hospital the day she got hurt.

“I get to bring Snoopy everywhere I go and I love Snoopy,” said Makailah Hall.

Makailah’s mother says Snoopy not only helped when she got hurt recently, but will be great to have in the future.

“Makailah goes back and forth to the doctor a lot because she has asthma,” said Ruth Hall. “Snoopy provided comfort to another little girl now she can provide comfort to her.”

While at Alma Schrader recently for a visit, Averie’s mom, Carrie, got a chance to meet Makailah.

She talked to her about how glad she was that Snoopy could be such a comfort to her.

They chatted on the bench dedicated to Averie’s memory.

In that moment, Carrie Williams could see her daughter’s spirit living on.

“Because she passed when she was in kindergarten, she will always be a kindergartener,” said Mrs. Neels. “I want everyone to know about her because she was a special little girl I know not everyone got to meet her so this is a way to spread her memory with everyone.”

After seeing how this toy comforted Averie and Makailah, Mrs. Neels created a “Snoopy Stash.”

“I was thinking I want anyone that needs this comfort to have it,” said Mrs. Neels. “I made the little hearts that say ‘In memory of Averie Williams’ and my sweet grandmother sewed them on by hand so each of the little Snoopies has a little remembrance of her.”

The box of Snoopies is now ready to go in the nurse’s office, just in case someone is having a really bad day.

“To know that years from now her memory will still be living through the halls of Alma Schrader, which was a family oriented place to begin with, it definitely touches our hearts for sure,” said Carrie Williams.

“They went above and beyond with everything they’ve done, they always do,” said Elliott Williams.

While many see Snoopy as an iconic beagle, a Peanuts character created decades ago, at Alma Schrader he’s proof compassion and comfort can come from even the simplest gesture.