HOUSTON (AP) — Near a classroom window, 5-year-old Milo Castillo fumbled with a golden, bejeweled crown. Michael Garcia, kneeling in front of him, patiently waited with his head bowed.
The crown shifted from between the boy's fingers, but he quickly grasped both sides and gently placed it on top of Garcia's head.
They both grinned.
The jewels adorning the crown are actually plastic and have been glued onto yellow foam. Nevertheless, the crown symbolizes something precious to Milo, a child with Down syndrome.
The Houston Chronicle (http://bit.ly/XZBf2e ) reports Garcia is the waiter at Laurenzo's Prime Rib who refused to serve a family who asked to be seated away from Milo and his parents, saying "special needs children need to be special somewhere else."
Garcia, 45, instantly became a hero for standing up for Milo, receiving praise — and donations — from all over the country after the story spread. On Thursday, he presented the contributions — in the way of a check for $1,145 — to Milo's school, The Rise School of Houston, a preschool affiliate of Texas Children's Hospital.
Garcia, who frequently served Milo and his family, has no regrets about not serving the customers that day last month. The patrons abruptly left.
"If I had gotten fired, oh well, I would have got another job," Garcia said of his reaction. "But what's right is right."
Before presenting the check on Thursday, Garcia joined the children sitting on blue mats for the thank-you party in his honor at The Rise School. He craned his neck to look over TV cameras as the preschoolers performed a song in sign language and hugged each child who walked up to him afterward.
Representatives from each class took turns handing Garcia special gifts that the children had made. Some climbed onto his lap as he read the cards. A box of tissues stayed close by.
"When you have something like this with someone who had no reason to be kind — he doesn't have relatives with special needs, he's not a teacher — but he did it out of a sense of what was right and from his heart, it gives us this hope," said Ashley Kress, development director for the school and a mother of a child with Down Syndrome. "Like, OK, if Michael can do that then maybe other people in the world can do that, too."
Kim Castillo, Milo's mother, said she knows that not many people would have done what Garcia did.
"What he's doing is not only inspirational, but it's going to hopefully push people to make donations to this amazing, amazing school," she said.
The Rise School of Houston is the city's first and only school dedicated to the early education of infants, toddlers and preschool children born with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities in an integrated environment. Thirty-five percent of the school's enrollment are traditional learners or typical children.
Students, teachers and parents rallied together to prepare for Garcia's visit to the school.
Kress said one student told her mom on Wednesday that she learned about "somebody new" in class.
"Well, he's kind of like God, but he's not God," the little girl explained, according to Kress. "And he's kind of like Martin Luther King, but he's not Martin Luther King."
Thinking of historically significant people, the mom asked, "Well do you know his name?"
To which the child responded, "His name is Michael. He's a waiter."
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com