Inspiration at Green Gables Elementary

What is it that a child needs?  Food and shelter, we all know that of course. Love, and a feeling of being cared for and protected. New experiences to learn from, both successes and failures. Reading and writing and all that; learning history, traditions, ethics, moral behavior… the list goes on. How about inspiration? Let’s think about that for a moment. 

Luke Jones is an inspiration. The path he has traveled can be called, fittingly, “tragedy to triumph.” When he was 18 months old his mother found him face-down in the family’s washing machine that was filled with scalding water. At the hospital, the doctors saved him but were convinced that he would never be able to hear, see, or talk. He sustained third degree burns from the waist up, and head trauma from being beaten by the washing machine agitator. 

It was a long and painful recovery but the doctors were finally proven wrong. The local news called him a “miracle baby.” These days, the kids at Green Gables Elementary call him “Mr. Luke.”

Mr. Luke is the evening custodian at the school, and it seems all the kids know him. When I met him at the school yesterday, he was in early for a morning assembly although his usual work shift starts in the afternoon. The assembly was a special occasion, with Mr. Luke as the featured speaker. Passing students called out to him with cheerful greetings, and the early-morning energy of the busy hallway sparked with smiles and waves. Then as the signal was given for the assembly the flow of energy and excitement moved into the gym. The teachers patiently shepherded each class in, their lines curving into concentric semicircles with the fifth-graders taking their places on the floor seated on the outer ring and then the fourth-graders and so on down to the kinders and preschoolers in front. The chatter quieted down as the familiar ritual began with standing for the Pledge of Allegiance, then sitting down again, and Mr. Luke told his story. The washing machine, the scars, the Miracle Baby. “What a gift life can be, if we make the most of it.” The children listened, watching quietly and perhaps imagining how hard it would be to go through all that, and to still get to be a grownup, a friendly and familiar person, helpful and smiling. 

The students had questions. “What was it like when you were in elementary school?”  The answer was something that many of the students would take to heart, finding it all too familiar. “It was hard. Kids didn’t understand me because of my scars, and it made them think I was too different. That taught me not to give up, ever. Don’t quit.” Another student asked, “What are you grateful for?” Mr. Luke thought a moment and replied that family, life, and meeting people sustain him and make him happy. Life is so full of opportunities to come together. Striving to always be better is the key, and to learn new things. Life always has a lot to be grateful for. 

When asked what gives him hope on hard days, Mr. Luke reminded the students of a T-shirt they had often seen him wearing, with a picture of Rocky Balboa. Rocky was the fighter in the movie, who never gave up. “I’m like Rocky Balboa,” he said. “I always have hope for a better day. The lesson we learn from Rocky is to look at every obstacle in this life as a challenge and an opportunity. And never give up.”

In summing up his theme, Mr. Luke called on lessons he learned from Rocky. “Life is not all sunshine and rainbows. It can be hard, and it will have tough times. It’s not about how much you fall, but about how you get back up. Don’t give up, ever. Don’t quit.”

Luke Jones grew up in Jeffco, attending Stony Creek Elementary, Deer Creek Middle School and Chatfield High School. Luke’s family, faith and friends are incredibly important to him as he continues his journey as an author, a singer/musician and public speaker. Luke’s message conveys the importance of believing in your dreams and being kind to yourself.

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