For 1212-year-old Manassas resident Austin Elder, helping others and doing the right thing just comes naturally.
So naturally, in fact, that many times Austin doesn’t realize he is doing anything that deserves recognition, his mother Laura Elder said.
“He just does whatever needs to be done,” she said, “It’s an automatic thing for him.”
When asked to describe volunteer work he has done, the shy Metz Middle School student just shrugs and asks his mother what he should say.
But despite his humility, Elder and his sister Angel Fulkerson said, Austin’s achievements are nothing small.
And they’re not the only ones who feel this way.
In April, Austin was named the G.I. Joe Real American Hero for Virginia by the toy manufacturer Hasbro.
Participants were asked to nominate children who have preformed heroic, courageous or unselfish deeds in their communities, overcoming personal challenges or preforming a life-saving action, said Hasbro spokesman Ryan Silbert.
When they heard about the contest, Elder and Fulkerson knew that Austin fit that description, Elder said.
Fulkerson wrote Austin’s nomination for the contest.
Austin has done volunteer work in the community such as working with the Salvation Army and with head trauma patients, Elder said.
“He’s done stuff for other people all his life,” she said. “He’s had the opportunity to do a lot of great things.”
But it was last year, when Elder was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, that Austin rose to the occasion and offered much-needed help to his mother, Fulkerson said.
“Last year was really hard for us, but Austin never complained,” Elder said.
Throughout Elder’s illness, Austin helped in any way he could, Fulkerson said.
“I helped my mom when she had cancer by just supporting her,” Austin said.
When undergoing chemotherapy, Elder, a single parent, was often too weak to perform even simple tasks for herself and her son.
Austin, an only child, stepped in to help with cooking, cleaning and other day-to-day activities that needed to be completed, Elder said.
“I probably spent the most time with her [Elder] during the first six months of her treatment and so I got to see how Austin was helping his mom,” Fulkerson said, “He really stepped up to the plate and never complained.”
Throughout the experience, Austin remained focused on his schoolwork and other responsibilities, maintaining a straight A average at school and continuing to play on two baseball teams, Elder and Fulkerson said.
“A lot of times Austin helped me by helping himself. I thought it was amazing for someone his age to handle this so well,” Elder said. “I think in similar situations a lot of kids would misbehave or just fall apart, but Austin always kept his focus.”
“He was just an all around good kid the whole time,” she said.
Both Elder and Fulkerson felt Austin deserved recognition for what he does so naturally.
“He’s been such a good kid,” Elder said, “I just wanted him to be recognized for that.”
“There are very few people who will actually step up to help people when they need it. For Austin that just comes naturally,” Fulkerson said, “I just thought he deserved something for that.”
As the state winner, Austin, who lives with his mother on Georgian Court in Manassas, received a certificate of commendation and a gift box of G.I. Joe toys from Hasbro.
“I was really excited when I found out I won,” Austin said. “I was surprised because I didn’t know I was nominated.”
Both Elder and Fulkerson wrote nominations for the contest, but Elder did not send hers in on time.
Austin didn’t know about Fulkerson’s nomination until his award arrived.
He is now eligible to become one of five national winners who will be chosen this summer to receive a trip to Washington, D.C.