Elbert Berry sees lots of familiar faces on his route as a sanitation worker, but his newfound friendship with a little girl with special needs is one-of-a-kind.
Fascinated by big trucks, Emma Grace started to take an interest in the garbage truck that would stop by her house on Tuesdays and Fridays. She’d stop whatever she was doing to wave at whoever was driving, though they never seemed to notice.
“The first day that he came through he started waving to her,” Emma’s mom, Laura Johnson, said. “And she really got excited because for the first time when the garbage truck came through, they saw her back.”
That first wave was just the beginning of their beautiful friendship. Now, instead of just waving at the garbage truck as it silently passes, Emma looks forward to interacting with Elbert. He waves and honks his truck, but he also stops and chats with her and her mom when he has the time.
“I don’t have any kids, but my niece has special needs, and I am always drawn to her,” Elbert said. “I always try to be kind to her and help her any way I can.”
Emma may be little, but she’s undergone so much in her life. Born three months premature, she spent four months in the NICU. Soon after, she was transferred to an orphanage in Hungary where she’d live until Laura and her dad, John Darnell, adopted her.
“She was just over 15 pounds at the age of three,” Laura said. “She couldn’t speak, she couldn’t communicate, she couldn’t cry.”
Since then, now 6-year-old Emma has grown to become a much healthier little girl, full of love and laughter. She loves others, and her friendship with Elbert couldn’t have come at a better time. Summer 2020 was rough for us all, but it was especially difficult for Emma due to so many health issues in her family. In March, her dad had heart surgery. Then, in September 2020, Emma’s grandfather passed away.
“Emma Grace was devastated,” Laura said. “Her best friend was gone — she still struggles today.”
Not only did Elbert’s friendship give her something to look forward to during a difficult time, it was also helping this shy little girl break out of her shell. She appreciated her new friend so much, in fact, that she decided to take a picture with him. Weeks later, she gifted that very picture, along with a hand written card, to Elbert for his birthday.
“The baby made me a birthday card, a handmade birthday card,” Elbert said. “It said, ‘I love you,’ and she stuck the picture inside.”
When September came around, in-person school started back up, limiting when these two besties could see each other. Emma wanted so badly to bring Elbert to school with her, so he crafted the perfect present so he could always be with her in spirit: A necklace with a copy of the picture she gave him inside. The back read, “You are the best part of my day!”
Elbert held onto the gift for weeks until, finally, a long weekend gave him the opportunity to finally see Emma again.
“It was a beautiful moment. I cry every time I think about it,” Laura said. “Emma is anti-social by nature, and she doesn’t have many friends. But Emma’s main goal over the past year has been to make Elbert smile.”
Elbert’s kind gesture has made such a positive impact on Emma’s life, but the same is true of his life.
“It’s the least that I could do,” he said. “As a sanitation worker, I receive a lot of complaints — to have a six-year-old girl befriend me and make my life happy is something that I appreciate.”
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