LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - A giant on the grid-iron is making a big impact off the field.
Noah Taylor, 16, is a six-foot tall, 205 pound Junior who plays a number of positions for the Robinson High School Senators. When he's not busy tackling 230 pound running backs or scoring touchdowns, he's busy making friends -- with the friendless.
It's Friday night and the lights are shining brightly at Robinson High School. The football team is facing Arkadelphia -- a tough opponent. But the Senators are ready and so is Taylor. After going through his pre-game ritual, he leads the team in prayer. He's a fierce competitor on the field... and his actions off the field are no different.
Every Wednesday and Friday... at eleven o'clock sharp, Taylor and Robert Johnson, who also plays football, take a short walk from Robinson High School to Robinson Elementary. The two football players come here during their lunch time... to spend precious time... with kids less than half their size.
When the two giants walk into the cafeteria, the eyes of the kindergartners light up and smiles emerge... along with random and funny conversations.
"It's my little brother's birthday and my brother is turning four," says one boy. Another boy says, "Coach Maupin went to school with my Dad and Uncle." Both Johnson and Taylor say, "That's cool," and then fire off their own questions. "Do you guys have nap time? No? That's sad, isn't it," says Taylor. Johnson asks, "Do you play baseball? That's cool."
The reasons behind these weekly visits and random conversations are just as priceless as the conversations themselves. "When I was younger, I got bullied and I got messed with a lot because I wasn't as cool as the other kids and I wasn't as athletic," said Taylor.
But he survived and grew out of it. However, the impact of being bullied never left his heart. Wanting to prevent others from being bullied, he asked his Dad for ideas. His Dad told him to come up with a way to change the school environment and to try and create a better learning environment.
So, Taylor came up with an idea to visit young kids during lunchtime and then he pitched it to one of his football coaches.
"Noah expressed his heart to reach out and impact lives in the elementary school and because I work in the elementary school... it's just kind of a natural connection," said Coach Brian Maupin.
Taylor then turned to his teammates and social media, asking others to be a "friend to the friendless." Johnson was one of the first to hop on board. "He asked me if I was interested in helping kids and I was like yeah, cause I think it's very cool to help kids that are getting bullied."
Making the young kids feel important, wanted and loved is only part of Taylor's formula.
"I really don't like to come straight to the topic of bullying because I don't want other kids to hear or make fun of them. So I try and stay away from doing that." His approach seems to be working... especially among kids who are quiet, don't have many friends or unfortunately being bullied. But when I asked him what the response has been, Taylor said, "A lot more kids want to hang out with them because, they think... the other kids think that they're cool cause they have two football players coming over and they want to hang out with them." Johnson agrees, "They talk to a lot more people they usually don't talk to."
And Coach Maupin sees the results everyday.
"They just want to spend as much time as they can with these guys and you can really see the smiles on their faces when Noah, Robert and these other football players walk in the building."
As for the impact these "lunchtime visits" are having, all you have to do is look at the faces of the young kids. When Taylor and Johnson leave, there are high five's, smiles and even big gigantic bear hugs. And if that's not proof that what they're doing is important and appreciated... just read the following letter sent to Noah from a parent who claims her son was being bullied.
I wanted to say that what you are doing is amazing. You have such a big heart. I truly thank you for what you are doing. Every school should have a hundred of you. You should be so proud. My son is one of the kids that knows what it's like to be bullied and I think what you are doing is going to help him and so many others.
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