RICHMOND HILL, GA (WTOC) - A Richmond Hill High School football player is known for his skills on the field, but he’s earning even more praise for his actions off the field.
Richmond Hill High School football player Jadiel “JD” Gonzalez might be number #61 on the field, but he is #1 in Alea Cox’s heart. The two met back in September when the football team was visiting students at Carver Elementary School. The high school senior noticed Alea was sitting alone in the lunchroom and decided to sit with her.
“You could see JD sitting there at lunch giving her undivided attention and you could see the joy on her face," said 5th grade teacher, Cindy Hatala, Carver Elementary School.
“She looked kind of sad sitting by herself. No kid should be sitting by themselves," Gonzalez said. " I was telling jokes, dancing a little bit, trying to make her laugh."
What Gonzalez didn’t know at the time was that Alea was going through a really tough time. She lost her sister Alivea to cancer back in June.
“It’s just been hard for the whole family, and to just see the pure joy on her face," Hatala said.
“It really touched my heart that day when the teacher sent pictures. Alea had been waking up everyday, crying, wanting to sing to Alivea’s picture," her mother, Kristi, said.
Teachers snapped pictures of JD and Alea at the lunch table that day, and people on social media couldn’t help but share them.
“All of a sudden, people started taking pictures. I didn’t know what was going on," Gonzalez said. “I just got the chance to make her happy, and that, I’m happy about.”
It was a small act of kindness Alea’s mom says their whole family needed in a big way.
“We had not seen a smile on Alea’s face since Alivea passed," Kristi said. “Her face lit up, she was smiling real big, talking with her hands.”
“It meant the world to me because I had not been able to help her with her grieving process and to get to that point of being joyful again. To see he had put that smile on her face again was just priceless."
It wasn’t a one-time encounter. They developed a special friendship and have become each other’s greatest cheerleaders. Alea cheers for JD on the football field, and JD surprised Alea at her gymnastics exhibition.
“It’s okay to be happy to random people. You don’t know what everyone is going through. Try to make their day better. That’s the advice my coaches gave me, and I took their advice," Gonzalez said.
“A small act of kindness can mean the world to one person," Alea’s mother said.
And to an entire community...
“Act of kindness really inspired our city and went viral," the mayor said.
Tuesday night, the City of Richmond Hill recognized Gonzalez with the Spirit of Community Award, for spreading a message of kindness throughout the city and beyond by befriending Alea at lunch.
“Alea, you’re my best friend. I hope this Christmas, all your wishes come true,” he said.