Weston Helmig cannot help himself; he has the ability to bring a smile to the face of virtually everyone he encounters.
It has been that way for all of his life.
There is a simple reason for the joy he brings — in Helmig’s eyes, he simply likes everyone, no matter who they are or where they may be in their lives, and they are all his friends and family.
On Friday evening, his friends returned the smiles, by choosing the Otterville High School senior as their homecoming king.
“I doubt if anyone knows how much this means to Weston,” his mother Bridgett Helmig said. “The simple fact that they thought enough to nominate him was so special; Weston can’t participate in a lot of things most students his age do so for them to give this to him, it just means so much.”
Helmig was born with Rubebstin Taybi Syndrome, a genetic disorder that results when a piece of the 16 chromosome is missing.
Autistic since birth, he does not see things in terms of limitations but rather, ‘What can I do to help?’ according to both his mother and Tammy Watring.
Watring is his para-professional at Otterville and has become a surrogate mother for Helmig during the school day.
“He is my other child, my shadow,” Watring said. “Bridget and I have been friends for so long and her family is like mine and I know she feels the same way.
“I’ve worked with him since he was in the second grade. It’s been nine years now and when he graduates I don’t know what I will do,” Watring added. “It will be so different without him around.”
His mother is facing the thoughts of graduation for her son as well.
“If I had my way he would be here forever, but it’s not logical,” Helmig said thoughtfully. “He has become stagnant in what he can do as far as the skills he can receive here, but the socialization part is so important for him.
“He needs and loves to be around other people,” she added. “Small towns can be tough on anyone, but this community, Otterville, they have been so wonderful to Weston and my family, I truly believe they have supported him and cared for him in the best way possible.”
Helmig spends most of his school days working on developing life and socialization skills in preparation for his graduation and the transition to life beyond high school.
To help meet those needs, Helmig travels each week to Unlimited Opportunities in Boonville. The facility works with individuals with special needs to help them develop greater independence.
“I’ve looked into a number of facilities, actually I think I’ve toured them all looking for a good fit for Weston,” Helmig said. “The staff there is very calm and understanding and I truly think they can handle everyone and meet their individual needs.”
Watring has been bringing Weston to the site three days a week this semester and beginning Feb. 1 he will travel to Boonville four days a week.
“Weston attends their day program,” Watring said. “They have a recycling program at the center and they are teaching him how to sort materials as part of the program.
“Weston needs a purpose for what he is doing and he wants to know why,” Watring added. “Since Weston is non-verbal, I have been going with him and helping their staff understand what he needs when he is upset, which rarely happens, and what his routine is.”
His mother agreed the routine is an important part of his life.
“Weston’s older sister, Lauren, is a sophomore at (University of Missouri-Columbia) and when she left for college it was very hard for him,” Helmig said. “She was always there and he didn’t understand when she had to leave.
“He feels the same way about his little sister, Megan; she is seven and he looks out for her and has always been incredibly protective of her,” Helmig added. “He can pick up on the changes and knows when something is different.”
Many of the staff and students at Otterville have also benefited from his protective nature.
“There are so many things about Weston that make him standout and special to us,” Otterville Principal Steve Gemes said. “Everyone knows him and they all respect him.
“He goes to the cafeteria and helps the elementary students,” Gemes added. “Whenever the cafeteria gets too loud he will turn the lights off and they all will quiet down when he does that; I think they just love seeing him because he is so positive.“
There are 16 seniors in this year’s graduating class and all of them work with Helmig to make him feel a part of the class, Gemes added.
Part of the reason to send Weston to Boonville now is that, as hard as leaving the school will be for him, it will be equally difficult for many of the students and staff.
“One of the things I worried about at Homecoming was that I didn’t want this to take away from all of the other students here,” Helmig said. “This was their night too and I didn’t want them to be slighted, especially not Bobbi Jo (Schoen), who Weston escorted.
“They have been friends since they were two weeks old and she and the other candidates were so good to him,” Helmig added. “They gave them a standing ovation when they crowned him and all I could do was cry.”
There will be more bittersweet yet joyous days for Helmig and his family before he leaves the district, prom and graduation being two of them.
Until then Weston can be found at the school wearing his crown and sash and spreading smiles throughout the kingdom of Otterville.
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484