(WMC-TV) - Balloons filled the sky in the medical district Wednesday morning to raise awareness for autism.
The balloons were released by the students at Harwood Center for Developmental Disabilities where parents say the entire staff is "a blessing," and one man in particular has a unique story to tell about how he got involved.
Eddie Hightower is an assistant teacher at the Harwood Center. On any given day, you will find Hightower helping teachers to make a big difference in the lives of their students.
"These children have goals. So we set goals for them, and we try to help them reach their goals," said Hightower. "I think it's part of my job that they get there."
It is the kind of work Hightower has been doing for more than 30 years. Parents say their children love him.
"Oh, my son loves Mr. Eddie," laughed Tara Mohundro. "He would come in and give him the biggest hug."
Mohundro says Hightower was a big help when her son, Byron, was a student at the center several years ago.
"Eddie made learning fun," added Mohundro. "My son thought he was playing when he was actually learning how to talk and how to tell his colors and how to recognize those letters."
Other parents agree. They call Hightower and others at the center "a blessing."
Hightower says he developed his passion for helping children with autism while playing football for University of Memphis and studying special education. He says a professor caught him cutting class and instead of being upset, the professor gave him a job working with children with disabilities.
That experience changed his life.
"I think I'm here on a mission," said Hightower. "I got things to do. I think I can really help out here with the children as far as making things better. I think I can make things better. I just want to play my part."