Before a group of family members and students, a Buddy Bench at Gonzales Elementary School was dedicated to a former student at the school.
Isaiah Garza was a third-grader at Gonzales who died of leukemia July 24, 2016. His mother, Yvette Hays, said one of Isaiah’s legs was shorter than the other so he had difficulty walking and he couldn’t see or hear very well, but he made a big impact everywhere he went.
Hays, her daughter Amerah Hays, a 6-year-old kindergarten student and many other family members, were on hand for the dedication March 28. The event included the release of balloons by students. A few of the balloons were in the shape of Mickey Mouse, who Isaiah loved.
“We did whatever he said. We jumped when he said jump,” Principal Sunny Rodriguez said. “I’m glad to have known him and to get to know you guys, as well, and still (have you) be a part of our Gonzales family.”
Sitting at the top of the campus playground, the Isaiah Garza Buddy Bench, made possible through the Gonzales PTA, means anytime a student doesn’t have a playmate, they can sit on the bench. Students can look up and see there’s someone in need of a friend, Rodriguez said.
“This bench has already brought joy to our students,” Rodriguez added.
Since its installation, students have been sitting on the bench happy and smiling.
“Isaiah’s spirit is already here with us. Our students feel it and it’s just bringing joy to our campus and our students,” Rodriguez said.
The school also presented his mother with a laminated book made about Isaiah being assistant principal for a day.
Teacher Valencia Chambers said she remembers the day Garza’s family walked into her classroom.
“They weren’t sure if he belonged and I assured them that he was going to be part of our family. We were always going to take care of him. That’s the spirit that he had here. He always belonged here. He made friends wherever he went. Everybody knew who he was, so we wanted to keep that spirit alive and make sure that everybody always had a friend, so we have Isaiah’s bench,” Chambers said.
His sister Amerah said having the bench in memory of her brother is a good idea.
“I just love it,” she said.
Hays said everybody at Gonzales was marvelous with Isaiah, who was in third grade.
“They treated him just like he was a regular old student, nothing different. The teachers didn’t let him get away with anything. They held him to a standard. It was that standard or nothing. They didn’t accept anything less than that. It was amazing to see that they pushed him and … they drove him to be better and want better and do better in school. To see them do that, it was just amazing,” Hays said.
She added that Garza needed to be pushed. When that happened, he advanced and he enjoyed school.
Despite the various difficulties he faced, Hays said her son never let it get him down.
“He always had a smile. He always was smiling, no matter … what the situation was. If he had a seizure, whatever, he just would wake up and he’d smile every morning. Every single morning there was a smile on that kid’s face,” Hays said.
Born in Dallas, Garza’s birthday was July 4, 2016. He died July 24, 2016.
She added that it was wonderful to see the impact he made on the school and those around him all on his own. Hays said they would be in stores and Garza would want to hug someone there, or they would want to hug him. Once the hug occurred, it made them feel better.
There were few people Garza wanted to stay away from.
“He made strangers cry. That kid loved everybody. It didn’t matter who it was. He would see them and he wanted to hug them,” Hays said.
She added that he has also prompted her daughter to take up for other children who might be getting hit and she has learned not to hang on to anger, to let things go and live life to the fullest.
“I try to see the silver lining in everything,” Hays said. “Even when he passed away, I was very blessed and lucky I was able to say my goodbye to him. I was able to say my piece. It was just him and I, and I’m blessed to have the family that I have. I was blessed to have him. Yes, it’s hard, but it is,” Hays said.
Relatives said he bought the family together and inspires them to be strong.
His step-grandmother Luisa Rayos said she knows Garza came into the world to make a difference.
“That was his goal. That’s (why) the Lord sent him here, to make difference a big difference, and he did,” Rayos said.
Rodriguez said she appreciated the family and Hays entrusting the school with Garza.
“He just touched everyone’s heart and lives and I’m just glad that he gets to carry on his legacy through Gonzales. I hope that this bench brings joy to other people’s heart like it brought to us,” Rodriguez added.