Elainna Barker and her mom, Sarah Barker
Mary Beth Sallee
Reporter, Hart Co. News-Herald
The Caverna Independent School District often refers to the phrase “small and mighty” as a slogan describing that, although it may be a smaller school system than most, it is mighty in the capabilities of its faculty and students.
And perhaps that slogan especially holds true for Caverna Elementary’s own Elainna Barker.
At just four years old, Elainna is doing mighty things to help make her community a better place, including being an active participant in Community Service Oriented Pageants. And although many hear the word pageant and think of tiaras and walking the stage, Elainna’s mom, Sarah Barker, said it’s much more than that.
“These pageants aren’t just about the pretty dresses and best hair,” Sarah explained. “They serve a community either by fundraising or requesting the participants to help fulfill a need within the community. Service examples include collecting toys for children at Christmas, food and toiletry items for a school resource office, or socks and slippers for nursing home residents.”
Pageants have obviously led to Elainna having the opportunity to serve others, but having a heart of service has also come from the foundation set forth by Elainna’s family.
“The short answer, Jesus told us to love one another, and that love is more than prayers, and kind words. It’s action (John 13:34 & 1 John 3:18),” Sarah said. “And honestly, I’ve always believed that ‘Generous persons will prosper’ (as in) Proverbs 11:25.”
“…The long answer – my parents, Larry & Elaine Lile, raised their children to give and help when we could and how we could, even when it hurt to do so,” Sarah continued. “I vividly remember one December in the late 80s that my father was gathering some items from around the house and asked my brother and I to contribute to the box. He explained that a coworker’s house had been destroyed in a fire. The coworker had children our age that weren’t going to get a Christmas and had lost all of their toys. I also remember the shock, hesitation, and sadness that came when my father unhooked and boxed up the family’s Atari console and games, too. Now, back then you didn’t have multiple video game devices like today. I could reason in my head that it was okay to share a couple of Barbie dolls. I probably had a half dozen, and I wasn’t going to miss an extra teddy bear, but to say I volunteered or even happily stood by and watched as the Atari left the house would be a misrepresentation. I know there were tears, and I’m certain I offered suggestive alternatives. My parents insisted and reassured us that God taught us to love others and those that give will be blessed in turn to have faith. Fast forward a couple days to Christmas morning that year, and there’s a New Nintendo NES under the tree. I’m sure I discussed it with my parents but even at that young age I remember feeling uncertain how to process the events, that the sadness for the other family lost so much, and guilt over my behavior when asked to share and give more than I was prepared to, shadowed by the glee of being rewarded with such an awesome new present.”
Now, as a parent herself, Sarah said that she and her husband, Ryan, want Elainna to be encouraged by the understanding that it is “better to give than to receive.” To serve others, Elainna has set up a lemonade stand and collected donations for Toys for Tots, handed out Valentines to residents at nursing homes, and donating supplies to the Hart County Animal Shelter.
“We don’t take this blessing lightly that Elainna doesn’t understand what it means to ‘go without.’ That’s our joy in the volunteer process with Elainna. Her smiles and effort while volunteering and serving are sincere,” Sarah said. “She’s giving her time and doing so with the simple joy and the love, innocence, and faith of a child. We’re seeing the world through her eyes.”
“We’ve followed Elainna’s lead when it comes to her participation in each service project,” Sarah added. “The first time we set up her lemonade stand at two years old, she didn’t understand asking for a donation, but she loved handing people lollipops and telling them to have a good day, so much so she would chase them down to give away her candy. Our community has embraced that innocence and shared their gratitude by donating and supporting her goal each year.”
As for Elainna herself, she stated that it’s all about happiness and smiles.
“It makes me happy,” Elainna said of helping others. “When they smile, I smile…It feels good to help others. I don’t like to see people cry. If they fall down, you help them up.”
Because of her volunteerism and willingness at such a young age to serve others and spread joy throughout the community, Elainna was chosen as the Hart County News-Herald’s Hometown Hero for the month of April. Subsequently, her mom Sarah was also mentioned in the nomination.
“I would like to nominate Elainna Barker for Hometown Hero. Elainna may be young, but she already has a servant’s heart. She has served in many capacities in pageantry, including as a State Ambassador with the Miss Toys for Tots Pageant,” a person anonymously wrote in a nomination. “Through this platform, as well as the goodness of her heart, Elainna has helped collect and donate toys to children in need. She has taken Valentines to elders in the nursing home and even donated supplies to the Hart County Animal Shelter.”
“There is a quote that states, ‘Your greatest contribution to the world may not be what you do but who you raise.’ It is evident that Elainna has parents who are guiding her in the right direction in life,” the nomination continued. “Sarah Barker is with her daughter every step of the way as Elainna gives back to her community. Therefore, Sarah deserves recognition as well for leading Elainna in the right direction to make a difference here at home and abroad.”
Sarah said that she is proud of Elainna’s recognition as Hometown Hero.
“I’ve never shared her service for recognition, but (am grateful) for the encouragement of others to realize that size and age doesn’t matter,” Sarah said. “Children can be kind and help others at any age in their own unique way.”
Consequently, she is also humbled by her own recognition in the nomination, stating that she feels undeserving.
“In typical mom guilt fashion, I immediately thought of the hundreds of ways I could do more as an individual. I think of the team of supporters that should be recognized before me,” Sarah said. “We are always overwhelmed by the generosity of the community, friends, family, pageant directors, and pageant sister queens that have supported Elainna’s goals and service projects. Honestly, I couldn’t do a fraction of what we’ve taught her without the love and support of my mother, Elaine Lile.”
When asked how she feels about being named a Hometown Hero, in true child-like innocence, Elainna replied, “Do I get to wear a cape? Or is it more like a PJ Mask? Will I get a different name like Owlette or Geco?”
Once the meaning was explained, Elainna said, “That sounds really important, and I’m not sure how to feel about that, but it sounds fun. Thank you.”
On behalf of Jobe Publishing, Inc., the Hart County News-Herald is honored to recognize Elainna Barker for her service to others in the community, as well as Sarah Barker for encouraging her daughter to have a heart of love and kindness.