"Everybody helps out," said Stetson Elementary School art teacher Mike Nowling, as he donned a hat Jan. 7 and jumped in to help cafeteria staff with lunch.
"The cafeteria used to be the art room when we started (the school)," he said. "And plus I worked at Ken's Pizza in Iowa. So I feel at home in here."
"We're a family," said Nowling, while helping out the kitchen staff. "These ladies are great. They help everyone out. Why not help them out you know?"
Many children greeted the out-of-place staff member with giggles and smiles, while moving through the line.
"The kids see this and they pick up on it," said Nowling, recognizing how staff who help each other set a positive example for students. "It's what Stetson is about."
When talking about how the school's culture has matured during his 16 years there, he quickly becomes emotional.
"My family went through a difficult stretch when we lost our son," he said. "We had large bills and we lost everything."
"We didn't even have money for food," he said, recalling how the staff, including those in the cafeteria, offered his family support. "This school community fed me everyday."
Now removed from that challenging time, Nowling says he knows Stetson Elementary School faculty make a difference for each student that walks through their doors.
"That's what this elementary school is about. It should be something our kids can always fall back on. I tell the kids, when you get to high school and need something, we are always here."
Nowling recounted that a former student, now in high school, had stopped by earlier in the week. She parked her car, walked inside and found him.
"She told me, 'I was just driving by and thought of you.'"