Early Christmas at Level Cross Elementary after 7-year-old wins Christmas card contest

RANDLEMAN, N.C. – It's an early Christmas at Level Cross Elementary. Ricky Gutierrez, with Thomas Tire in Asheboro, walks into a classroom with one big Christmas bag and one smaller bag.

"Hey Aaron," Gutierrez cheerfully called out.

But Aaron didn't respond. The 7-year-old boy isn't rude. He has nonverbal autism.

Gutierrez continues to walk into the classroom and pulls up a chair and sits down. Inside the big Christmas bag there are colorful building blocks and cool dinosaurs.

While Aaron can't speak, his bright smile is proof that he loves the gifts. Michelle Allen is Aaron's mother. She can't believe how quickly Aaron has bonded with Gutierrez.

"Such progress, he did really well," said Allen. "Just for him to interact with someone he doesn't know and to see him actually play with the toys the way they are supposed to be played with, that's unheard of.  They picked perfect toys."

Through a Christmas card contest, the folks at Thomas Tire in Asheboro were able to meet Aaron. Ashley Ward described the Thomas Tire Christmas Card Contest.

"We had 676 submissions and when we saw Aaron's card, we had a panel of judges and all of us just stopped," Ward said.

With the help from his teacher, Aaron drew and colored a Christmas tree on his Christmas card. Under the tree were three presents. Aaron's gifts were acceptance, unique and ability.

"So, they were just not traditional things kids would ask for for Christmas," Ward said. "It impacted us to know that there are other things kids want for Christmas."

The auto repair business got to know Aaron and the rest of the Functional Skills class at Level Cross Elementary.

Aaron's mom explained the toys the business bought will help him communicate.

"There are so many ways to get communication out with toys. There's color, how many, they did great picking out the toys," said Allen.

Along with toys, the Functional Skills class use an iPad app to help build skills.

"Aaron started working with this program about two weeks ago and he is using it to communicate," Allen said. "I haven't heard Aaron make complete sentences in about five years."

The iPad is so important that classroom teacher Suzanne Santomieri and others created a social media fundraising campaign.

The goal is to buy another iPad by selling Christmas cards made by Aaron and his classmates. $10 for a pack of 10 Christmas cards, the Functional Skills class sold about 200 packs of Christmas cards. What's even better, two iPads were donated earlier this month.

And inside of the smaller bag Ricky Gutierrez was carrying, an iPad. Counting the original classroom iPad, the Functional Skills class now has four iPads.

"We will be able to do small groups a lot more effectively and use that communication tool for each of the kids, which is great," said Santomieri.

Now that the classroom has four iPads, the money from the fundraiser will go toward other classroom tools that will help the Special Needs students develop their communication and motor skills.

Here's more information about the Functinal Skills class fundraiser.

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