Shoemaker Tradition Builds Autism Awareness

SHS autism walk 2024It was a large, extended family gathering that assembled at the Shoemaker High School football field Thursday to walk four laps as part of an effort to raise awareness of autism and to celebrate inclusion.


For seven years now, it’s been a priority for Shoemaker at-risk liaison Letha Reeves to conduct an autism walk at the school to show support for all students.


This year, she acknowledged, she went all out.


The family gathering included mayors from Killeen and Harker Heights, the Fort Cavazos garrison commander, and representatives from Shoemaker’s feeder middle schools, Palo Alto, Live Oak Ridge and Audie Murphy.


All of that in addition to students and staff members available for the morning walk.


A big portion of the 75 students at Shoemaker with some form of autism took part, as well as many of the 20 students connected to the B.O.S.S. Mentor Program that focuses on community service.


With participants gathered on the turf alongside the track, Reeves, as well as Killeen Mayor Debbie Nash-King, Harker Heights Mayor Michael Blomquist and Garrison Commander Col. Lakicia Stokes thanked the group for gathering.

SHS BOSS Mentor club serves


Reeves grew emotional as she spoke of the importance of including all people in all walks of life.


Nash-King urged participants to ask questions about autism to learn more about the condition.


Events like this, she and other leaders said, help to change stereotypes and break down barriers.


Both student and adult volunteers walked alongside students in the school’s special education program.


The walk is an annual service project of the B.O.S.S. Mentor program. The acronym means Better Opportunities for Shoemaker Students. It recently won a KISD volunteer award.


Senior Jay Haynes, one of the students in the service organization said his mentor helped him make plans for college.


“It’s about leadership for Shoemaker students,” he said. “We find a mentor and we help the community.”

SHS autism walk 2024


The group this year has assisted with a free pancake breakfast and volunteered at the recent Area Special Olympics track meet.


The three-year varsity football player said that joining the mentor program helped push him into the community, where he has learned the joy of serving others.


Tyler Hall, a junior, also in the B.O.S.S. program said his mentor and the service experience changed his perspective on life.


“It’s about leadership,” he said. “It leads students onto the right path.”


Hall said he was frequently in trouble and that his mentor helped him. “I realized I had someone to talk to and so I didn’t worry so much.”


Shoemaker coach Cion Hicks provided the final motivational start to the walk, leading the group in the school’s familiar “Shoemaker Chant,” before stepping onto the track.