He bounded toward the car with soaked sock-feet, but he didn’t seem to care.
His mother did, though.
“Where are your shoes?” she asked.
When he answered, the furrow in her brow fell and her heart sank. He said, “I gave them to a little boy. His had holes in them, and the bottom was broken.”
That’s when it all started, she said. He was five years old.
Tyler Johns, now eight, looks for the good in everyone. He sees people the way only a child can, and when he sees something that he knows he can change, he doesn’t just think, Well, I hope someone helps them. He just does it.
He has made grocery lists to fulfill for families of school friends, given away coat after coat to children without, and exchanged nice, new shoes for cold, wet socks. For two years he continued to help those he saw around him who were less fortunate.
A few months went by, and his mother, Keisha Norwood of Paris, Tennessee, noticed he hadn’t given anything away.
“I was sort of relieved,” she said with a laugh. “I was a single mother at the time, and it was hard enough to buy one nice coat and pair of shoes. But not once did I ever discourage him from doing these kind acts. That is one of the things I love most about him, and I would never let him think that I don’t want him to keep doing it.”
During that time Tyler hadn’t stopped thinking of others. He was making a plan. How could he help more children, he wondered? Then one chilly November afternoon he climbed into his mother’s car and said “I have an idea!”
She waited for his response with held breath and a warm smile.
“We’re going to bake pies,” he said.
Okay . . . not so bad, she thought.
“And then we are going to sell them to raise money to buy Christmas presents for the less fortunate.”
He was grinning from ear to ear, and it was contagious, so she was, too.
Still she was thinking, Okay . . . not so bad.
“How many pies are you thinking, Ty?,” she said.
“Oh, just a few.”
And then he pulled out a list as long as his little arm.
For the next month and a half they gathered supplies, they made grocery run after grocery run, and they baked. But not once did she say that she was too busy to do what her little boy wanted to do. Not once did she complain. Not once did she ask him to stop.
She nurtured the idea. She let him be who he is and do what he is meant to do: help others.
Two weeks before Christmas, the mother and son duo collected the money that had raised from the people eager to help and eager for the delicious desserts. They searched for a local organization to put the earnings to good use.
That’s when they found R.E.A.L. Hope Youth Center, a non-profit located in Paris whose mission is to “[inspire] REAL hope for all youth to become caring, productive, responsible citizens.”
They had raised enough money to provide Christmas for ten children who otherwise would have received little to nothing, but Tyler wasn’t done helping. He “wanted to go with the representatives from R.E.A.L. Hope to pick out the gifts that would be donated.”
They spent three hours picking out toys, footballs, action figures, clothes, and necessity items, and if they were tired they not once let it show.
That Christmas, because Tyler saw the need to help and did what he knew he could, ten young boys had presents under their trees. Their faces lit up on Christmas morning because of the time he and his mother had spent working to make a difference.
Now a year older and with even deeper desires to help, Tyler and his mom have spent the last few months planning, baking, selling, and shopping once again.
This year they provided for sixteen children, and they already know they’ll be doing it again next year.
When asked why he does what he does, a confused look covered Tyler’s face. He thought about his response for a while, and responded, “They just needed someone to help them.” And that was that.
He just did.
To learn more about R.E.A.L. Hope Youth Center, visit their website.
Chelsea-Catherine Cobb is a Jackson native and 2015 Union University graduate with a degree in Public Relations and French. She loves a strong cup of coffee, antique shopping, watching Jeopardy, writing, and meeting others who call Jackson home. Tell Chelsea you love cats, and you'll make a friend for life.
Photography by Chelsea-Catherine Cobb or provided by Tyler's family.