Girl, 14, recognized for helping boys with special needs

As the sound of car wheels rustled down the gravel road, Laurie Woelfle was left helpless — stuck in a leg cast as her son, Nick, 7, stood in the middle of the road, unaware of the danger that was about to meet him.

 She felt sick to her stomach as fears of losing a child rushed through her head until her daughter Alex, 9-years-old at the time, rushed onto the scene, running straight in front of the car, pushing herself and her brother safely to the other side.

Laurie said the feelings she felt that day were incomparable to anything you could ever imagine.

“It was the most helpless feeling I’ve ever had.”

To anyone hearing this story, it is easy to become shocked at the magnitude of this completely selfless act by a 9-year-old girl but through Alex’s eyes she sees this as nothing more than the right thing to do. To her this was only natural.

“I don’t really look upon what I did as a very amazing thing, it was just something that happened,” said Alex.

But this is certainly not the first action of this calibre that Alex has done.

While most other 14-year-olds spend more time worrying about their hair than helping others and few have enough time to manage their homework, never mind anything else, Alex finds time to do all of the above along with regularly volunteering.

As long as she can remember she has been involved in activities with her community and various organizations around the city as well as helping her twin younger brothers, Nick and Jake.

Nick and Jake were born with Rubenstein-Taybi syndrome (RTS), which is a rare genetic disease that involves broad thumbs and toes, short stature, distinctive facial features, and varying degrees of intellectual disability.

This condition means that the boys require a lot of extra care and attention. Since they were born, Alex has taken on this role along with her mom, Laurie, and dad, Wade.

Alex (center) spends a lot of time reading with her brothers Nick (left) Jake (right). Reading is one of the main activities that the three of them like to do together.
Photo by: Rachel Kane
“I would find her trying to read to them in their rooms,” said Laurie. “Or I would come round a corner and the three of them all cuddled up on a couch together or her trying to teach them things. She was determined that she was going to teach these kids something.”

As she got older these efforts only progressed and she has continued to be a very big part of Nick and Jake’s lives. From programming their communication devices, to learning sign language, to teaching them how to speak, Alex has been with them every step of the way.

“She was there to see the tears, she was there to see the pain the boys went through, she’s seen all of it,” said Laurie.

Alex takes it upon herself to set a good example for her brothers, as she explains that because she is someone that they look up to her actions play a big part in their lives.

“It makes me feel really good because I know that they’re learning about things and they’re getting better with fitting in more,” she said.

But Alex’s good deeds aren’t only confined to within her family. She began volunteering at age seven and has since been involved with multiple community and city-wide organizations, including The Challenger Little League, Between Friends Club and Hull Child and Family Services. To date she has accumulated an approximated grand total of 650 volunteer hours — quite a substantial amount for a 14-year-old.

This year she was one of 16 kids aged five to 18 who received the 2011 Great Kids Award from the Government of Alberta as recognition for her generosity, courage, compassion, determination and strong spirit.

Despite the number and extent of things that Alex has done so far in her life, the most striking characteristic of Alex is how humble she is. Her mother believes that there are no limits to what her daughter can accomplish in life, having come so far already.

“She wants to make a big difference in the world and I think she will,” said Laurie.

Most of Alex’s evenings have been filled with trips to high school information nights as she prepares to graduate grade 9 this year and move on to a whole new world of opportunities ahead of her.

For the moment Laurie explains that Alex is determined to be a doctor and recalls being told this many times by her passionate daughter.

“I have to take the boys to emergency quite often because they break bones fairly easily and she wants to come along. But it’s not just about the boys, she needs to ask questions about every single piece of medical equipment in the room,” said Laurie.

At only 14 it’s possible that Alex’s plans for the future might change, even more than once, but one thing is sure — whatever Alex puts her mind to is something she will accomplish.

Most parents will say they are proud of their children because no matter how big or small their accomplishment may be, through a parents eyes even the littlest step is a giant leap. However, Laurie says that she feels extremely lucky to have her family, including a daughter like Alex.

“She is a gift. Education-wise we have no concerns with her, she volunteers, she donates, she’s helping all the community kids, there’s nothing about her at this point in time that I’ve any fears about so I think there’s tonnes of potential for where the whole family can go.”

At the end of the day, despite the incredible things that she does, Alex is just like any other 14-year-old girl. She loves to read, has a crazy obsession with Harry Potter and would do anything for her family.

Their family may be a little unconventional but that’s what makes them special and defines who they are. None of them would have it any other way.

“They mean everything to me they’re one of the most important things in my life and I don’t know what life would be without them,” said Alex.

rkane@cjournal.ca