Acworth teenager creates Giving with LAX to help special needs kids

Watson and Max Howey stand with Grayson Carvel, right, the 13-year-old who created Giving with LAX, an effort to get special needs kids involved in lacrosse. Courtesy of Lindsey Carvel

Credit: Courtesy of Lindsey Carvel

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Watson and Max Howey stand with Grayson Carvel, right, the 13-year-old who created Giving with LAX, an effort to get special needs kids involved in lacrosse. Courtesy of Lindsey Carvel

Credit: Courtesy of Lindsey Carvel

Credit: Courtesy of Lindsey Carvel

The Wolfpack stands roared and eyes brimmed with tears Oct. 3 – the day Max Howey, a 6-year-old boy with Down syndrome, scored his first ever lacrosse goal. It was one of many hallmark moments dreamt up and orchestrated this season by 13-year-old lacrosse player, Grayson Carvel.

“It all started over the summer with my coach for my travel team,” said Grayson, of Acworth, who plays for North Paulding Wolfpack in spring and fall and Crossfire during the summer. “Coach wore initials on his helmet to represent and honor his grandfather and that inspired me. I wondered who I could play for. A couple months later I was thinking about people who can’t play lacrosse because of disabilities. That’s when I started to volunteer with Trailblazers.”

Paulding County Trailblazers is an organization that offers athletic programs for individuals with special needs. When Grayson finished his lacrosse practices, he headed over to Trailblazers to help with soccer practice.

“There’s one kid who is non-verbal, autistic and epileptic,” said Anthony Carvel, Grayson’s father. “His dad told us his son didn’t interact with people much, then I see him holding Grayson’s hand, running around the field. It chokes you up as a parent. These days, when so many kids are focused on appearances and social media, Gray is thinking about making all kids feel included. His mom and I are proud, to say the least.”

Grayson’s volunteer time with Trailblazers answered the question he’d been asking himself. He knew who he wanted to play for, whose initials he wanted on his helmet: those of special needs kids. His big idea for Giving with LAX hatched.

“I decided I’d honor a different special needs kid in the community each week,” Grayson explained. “I’d wear their initials on my helmet to honor and recognize them and make them feel like part of the team. I’d invite them to watch practice and even participate in a game.”

Four kids were honored during Grayson’s fall season and all of them, as well as their parents, were thrilled by the invitation.

Max Howey’s older brother, Watson, plays on the same teams as Grayson. Max loves people and loves to attend the lacrosse games but keeping the gleeful little guy off the field can be a big task.

“When Grayson reached out about Giving with LAX, we knew Max would love it because he’s always trying to get on the field anyway,” said Max’s dad, Dustin Howey, with a laugh. “My wife, Rene, and I were all for it and so impressed by Grayson. He has a heart for people with special needs, he truly wants to be involved and help. It’s amazing to me that someone his age would have the thought and heart to do something like that.”

Grayson’s intentions toward his honorary players were infectious. Soon his teammates were donning initials on their helmets and taking time to interact with the players of the week. They’d take team pictures together, post them on social media, and Giving with LAX even garnered the attention of a lacrosse equipment manufacturer, East Coast Dyes, who sent custom lacrosse sticks. Professional lacrosse teams, including Georgia SWARM, also follow Giving with LAX on social media.

“Our community has been so into this and I’m so glad,” said Grayson. “I want to continue growing season to season. My goal is to spread awareness about inclusion for all these kids and I just want to put smiles on their faces.”

Anthony says he and his wife are excited to see where Grayson takes Giving with LAX, and they’re happy to help him get there. They are currently working to get established as an official 501(c)(3), so Grayson can think of more ways to enhance the kids’ lacrosse experiences and create long-lasting memories, just as he did for this season’s players.

When Max had his turn to take the field, his father stood on the sideline and watched his youngest son charge the goal. The Wolfpack players made a show of pretending to block Max, but took fake falls, allowing Max to burst through. When the blond little boy, outfitted in a Wolfpack helmet and jersey, approached the goal, he launched the ball from his stick and, as if in slow motion, watched as it rolled over the line. The team swarmed around him, cheered, and slapped high fives as Max raised his stick in the air and yelled, “Woo hoo!”

“It was emotional watching Max out on that field,” said Dustin. “While we want him to have the same experiences as other kids, we know he’s not like them and that’s OK. Still, it’s special for us to see him be included. We greatly appreciate Grayson for giving Max that moment.”

After his big game Max, who is partially verbal, looked at Dustin and said three words that affirmed the bright smile on his face.

“Daddy, I’m happy.”

WANTED: KINDNESS

Was someone kind to you this year? As we head into the holiday season, we’d like to hear kind acts that you experienced this year. What did this mean to you? Or did you commit to being kinder in this challenging year, and if so, what did you do? What kind of response did you receive? We’ll be sharing some of these stories as we head into the season of giving. If this speaks to you, send us an email. Include your name, which we will use, your city, and contact info to AJC-InspireAtlanta@ajc.com.