Brother leads effort to erase ‘R’ word at school

Fourth-grader, whose sister has a developmental disability, wants people to know 'it hurts when they say that word'

TRENTON — When Babeck Elementary student Daniel Hellard heard other students using the word ‘retarded’ in school as if it was no big deal, it struck the fourth-grader to the core as he thought of his 3-year-old sister, Addelyn, who was diagnosed with mosaic down syndrome at 2 weeks old.

“People just don’t understand that it hurts when they say that word,” said Daniel. “After I heard it, I knew I needed to do something.”

He immediately went to school counselor, Kathy Sparks, to see what he could do to find a way to get the word how wrong it is to use the “R-word.” His mother, Brandy Hellard, said when she heard from the school about Daniel’s desire to take action, she decided to let him run with it.

“This was his issue and his thing,” said Hellard. “I figured it would get sorted out at school and that would be it.”

Daniel started designing posters and went right to the students who offended him and got their help. His goal, his mother said, was to help them see why the word is so hurtful.

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The posters were not enough for Daniel, though.

“I wanted people to make a promise not to use that word anymore,” Daniel said.

Many of his classmates signed the pledge to “Erase the ‘R’ Word” and have worked with him to talk with other Babeck students about being more aware of what they say.

It wasn’t long after Daniel started his efforts when Wendy Planicka of the Butler County Board of Developmental Disabilities got word of Daniel’s efforts and wanted to include him in the agency’s movement to Erase the ‘R’ Word.

“Daniel’s efforts really capture the effort of our larger campaign,” Planicka said. “It is so much more powerful to hear from students who know it’s not right to use the word, rather than directly from someone who is tired of being called the ‘R word.’”

Daniel and some of his classmates were invited to film a 30-second commercial for the Erase the ‘R’ Word campaign. Sparks said she has been shocked by Daniel’s transformation since all of this happened.

“Daniel is a great kid, but he’s always been quite shy,” she said. “He has gone way out of his comfort zone to do this and he has done an amazing job.”

Daniel’s mother said she had no concern putting herself and the family in the spotlight if it helps other families.

“Addy is a blessing to us,” she said of the now 3-year-old girl. “We live our lives every day to the fullest. You never knew what your kids will grow up to be. I never dreamed Daniel would grow into this. I am incredibly proud of him for what he’s done.”

Daniel said he’s not sure what’s next in his quest to “Erase the ‘R’ Word,” but he plans to continue his efforts.

“When people use that word, they are talking about my sister,” he said. “It doesn’t just hurt the people who have a disability, but their families, too.”

Contact this reporter at (513) 705-2551 or

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