NEWPORT, Tenn. — Words go a long way and the power of a simple "thank you" can cause a ripple effect. That's why Ace Hardware in Newport honored a Bridgeport third grader.
A few weeks ago, Wayne Ball found a letter in the Ace Hardware mailbox that touched his heart in a big way. It was a thank you note from an 8-year-old girl named Americus Dandrea.
The note reads, "Thank y'all for what y'all do for other people in this world today. Y'all are great people here in Tennessee. Signed, Americus."
Ball is a lifelong helper. From serving in the Navy to working in hospitality and now as the assistant manager at Ace Hardware, his goal is always to give back.
He never expected anything in return, but when he read the thank you note from the young girl, he broke down.
"We had a lot of sadness in our store over the last couple months, and it just touched our hearts, so we decided we wanted to touch her heart back," Ball said.
Lucky for him, helping is what Newport and Cocke County do best too.
"Everybody loves their neighbors here," Ball said. "Sure seems that way anyway."
He's not kidding either. He told the story of the thank you note to businesses in town, and 14 said they wanted to help honor the 8-year-old girl.
On Wednesday, the community, including both the city and county mayors, police department, sheriff's office and fire department, showed up to surprise Americus. The crowd was filled with strangers, but they are also her neighbors.
Ball presented each gift to the young girl, who was shy and a little overwhelmed with all the attention.
Everything from shampoo and conditioner, a manicure and pedicure, Sonic gift card and key to the city landed in her hands.
She even left with a big check, just for being herself. The memo line read, "For being awesome!"
"I've never had nothing like this before," Americus said.
She realized this all happened because she decided to be kind.
Her mom, Korie Dandrea, said it was all Americus's idea. She encourages good character, "Because it's from our hearts," she said.
Cocke County honors Bridgeport third grader
Americus and her two brothers even mailed letters to other places in town, like the sheriff's office and police department.
"I don't think she'll ever forget it, and hopefully other people will see her example and want to do the same thing be nice to their neighbor," Ball said.
A third grader, inspiring change. She's a helper in her own right.
"There's good in the world, and you just got to find it," Ball said. "It doesn't hurt to praise it a little bit."
The notes came from a booklet handed out at Bridgeport School. Ball said he believes the sheriff's department funds the character printouts.