Fourteen-year-old Zachary Foyt received a Youth Excellence and Achievement Award for Success Despite Difficult Odds from the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners on April 17.
The eighth-grader at Randall Middle School has Down syndrome and is nonverbal but a born leader, said his teacher, Aimee Eftink.
Zachary is extremely intelligent, said Eftink, who assesses his reading, comprehension and testing abilities. He does very well in science, his favorite subject.
He can’t formulate words, so he communicates with his teachers and friends through gestures, sign language and a handheld communication device with icons of words he uses to share ideas.
“People skills are one of Zach’s strengths,” said Eftink, who calls him “the Rodney Dangerfield of Randall. He has a larger-than-life personality and is usually the life of the party, with an amazing sense of humor.”
When the PTA sponsored a dance at the school last year, Zachary wanted to dance, but no other middle schooler had the nerve. He asked three girls to dance with him, and then a few more, and soon every boy and girl and many teachers were on the dance floor, said Eftink.
Zachary, a member of Randall’s recycling team, understands the process and sees that every student does their job properly.
“Last year I had carline duty,” said Eftink. “Zachary helped me on many occasions. Many days, parents would simply ignore me but never Zachary. He had a way of keeping the car line moving. Zachary is a born leader despite his disability.”
It’s not all roses for Zachary. Although “he is extremely popular and has a lot of protectors, sometimes middle school students aren’t that nice,” said Eftink.
“He wants to tell them off, but can’t,” she said. “To me, it would be beyond frustrating. But Zach handles those rare incidents with humor and grace. He’s taught me patience, forgiveness and acceptance.”
Send inspiring story leads to Barbara Routen at Neighbors@tampabay.rr.com.