|His Grace Foundation’s darling, Gracie Kiltz, was honored at her Georgetown High School in mid-September when the student body nominated and crowned her as GHS Homecoming Queen. Her King? A Down Syndrome classmate named Jared Friemel.
How encouraging to see a generation recognize the sweetness and sincerity in a person who can’t show it in words. In a letter to the Georgetown High School student body days before her crowning, John Kiltz, Gracie’s father said “Unlike most teenagers, her smile and her spirit has created no enemies – she has won over the masses with no agenda and no ambition.” He was exactly right. While students were casting their ballots that Friday afternoon, nominees were requesting that they vote for Jared and Gracie instead.
Wearing a sparkling silver and grey dress, hot pink tights, and glittered Converse high-tops Gracie and her dad strolled on to the field the night of September 17th.
Seconds later as Gracie and Jared’s names were announced as the 2010 Homecoming Queen and King the crowd erupted and the stadium shook. “You could hear it just echo – the claps and the hollering and the yelling,” said Ms. Friemel, Jared’s mother.
Simply being nominated to Homecoming Court was enough to please the Kiltz family, but being crowned as Homecoming Queen far exceeded any expectation they had. “When they announced it, it was surreal,” said HGF Founder and Gracie’s mother, Erin Kiltz.
Letter From Gracie
If I could speak, these might be my very words….to the students of GHS
I was blown away Friday night when you chose to crown my friend Jared and I as GHS’S Homecoming King and Queen. One thing you might now know is over 15 years ago, my heart stopped beating for 20 minutes and left my body broken and my brain injured. None of the doctors believed I would live much less ever smile again. So when God chose to give me back my smile I knew I would always have to share it with who ever was nearby. When you grow up different than most kids in the world, you begin to adjust and understand those differences might not ever be accepted or celebrated but even less likely to be honored. Jared and I have never been recognized as we were on Friday night. We will never forget what it felt like… the lights, the band, the thousands of students cheering us on; it was our first true moment of acceptance and love from everyone collectively.
|Even if I could speak I would never be able to fully express or think you would fully understand the significance of what you did. When my name was announced I felt the magnitude of God’s love for me through the choice that you made. You chose to honor Jared and me in a way that we could never have attained or accomplished on our own. You looked beyond our weaknesses and differences to sweetly bless us in a way that was more a reflection of your character than anything else. This past Friday, GHS stood out in a way that will be remembered for many years to come not only by Jared and me but by everyone who witnessed it from the stands.|
GHS you set an example for the younger generation that could only wonder why you didn’t pick the most beautiful or most popular girl and guy. Your vote might begin to teach those younger to place value on all people no matter whether they are able to attain straight A’s or just give the gift of a smile. I ask that each of you will continue to go out of your way to interact with students like us….we crave that encouragement from you! Don’t worry how we respond, it will probably be different than what is comfortable but don’t stop…you make us great! Peer Buddies you truly do lift the students of CBI high on Eagles Wings…thank you for choosing to hang out with students like us.
And finally to my teachers….thanks for always believing not only in me but also in every “special” student in CBI. Without each of you and your contagious love, this would have never happened. Your daily patience with each of us keeps us striving towards reaching our God given potential.
Next time you look up into a night sky, I want you to think of each heart at Georgetown High School and know that Friday night your hearts shone brighter than any of the stars!
Proverbs 13:12 says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. Georgetown High School is a tree of life not only to Jared and I but to every “special” student.
With a smile,
Gracie and brother, Riley
Fast forward 8 years, Riley now finishing his junior year of college at TCU, came home from school, fulfilled that promise and took his little sister to the Georgetown High School Senior prom last night.
During my first transfusion, my mind was interrupted by a sweet two-year-old, leukemia patient with downs syndrome who made a game of untying my shoe. Her adorable disposition was a welcomed distraction to an otherwise difficult day. Her name was Gracie.
Nearly sixteen years later I know that the interruption was a providential encounter that would set the direction for the rest of my life.
Gracie and I would cross paths occasionally over the next year while receiving treatments for our illnesses. Each encounter resulted in similar feelings as the first; to put it simply, I enjoyed spending time with Gracie.
On my last hospital stay I learned that Gracie had developed an infection that wreaked havoc on her two-year-old body. She was sent home with little chance of survival.
Over the next two years I recovered from my illness and went on to college. During that time I began to work with individuals with special needs and thoughts and memories flooded my mind of Gracie. It wasn’t long before I knew that I would pursue a career in this field. Some might call this decision a “calling,” as an eighteen year old I simply knew that I enjoyed it.
The decision to pursue a career working with the special needs population has evolved into many forms. Most recently it has led my family and I to caring for and living life with our sweet friends-the residents at Cornerstone Ranch.
This past spring my world was interrupted by Gracie again.
Nancy Greenwold, the mother of one of our residents, introduced me to Buck, a friend of hers and a pastor from College Station. Buck and I enjoyed connecting and talking about mutual contacts. Towards the end of our conversation he asked how I began working in special needs ministry. I told him my story and what an impact Gracie had on my life.
As I spoke I noticed a peculiar look wash over Buck’s face. “Doug, I know Gracie. She IS alive. My wife and I have been best friends with her family for nineteen years.” At that moment emotions exploded, goose bumps, adrenalin, tears, and excitement. For sixteen years I’ve thought that Gracie didn’t make it!
Several weeks ago we had the reunion of a lifetime when we visited Gracie and her family. I had opportunity to tell John and Erin Kiltz, the impact their daughter had on my life. Saturday morning I got to read Gracie’s favorite book to her and Chloe, my oldest daughter. If that is not a picture of Grace I do not know what is.
Gracie’s smile and personality is encouraging as ever. Apparently I am not the only person who thinks this, last fall she was voted the homecoming queen of Georgetown high School.
God’s timing of pouring Grace in my life through Gracie is providential. The first time as a scared teenager, and most recently as confirmation of the path in which God is leading our family as we accepted the main House Parent position at Cornerstone Ranch. I am thankful for the interruption of His Grace in my life.