The E-T is hosting a contest in which residents are asked to nominate their favorite local Everyday Hero who can be involved in any capacity of everyday life — everything from healthcare workers to community volunteers to grocery store clerks and everything in between — who have made an impact on others. The overall Everyday Hero winner, to be decided by vote of E-T readers, will receive a $100 gift card.

As part of the process, the ET is featuring nominees. The current Everyday Hero nominee in the spotlight is Theresa Hutchins, a longtime para-professional (teacher’s aide) in the Stephenville Independent School District.

The Stephenville native has worked for the SISD for more than 26 years, with the majority of that time spent as a teacher’s aide at the elementary school level.

Hutchins grew up as one of nine children, which may help explain her love and passion for working with children.

“It could be. I was the third out of nine kids,” said Hutchins, who now works at Central Elementary School in pre-kindergarten class. “I feel like I helped raise the other six.”

As a teacher’s aide, Hutchins sometimes notices younger students in particular who tend to stay to themselves — ones she calls “underdogs.” She said she tends to feel drawn to them.

“They were the ones that were just lonely. Those were the kids that caught my eye,” said Hutchins, a 1975 graduate of Stephenville High School. “They need someone to look up to. They need that somebody they can trust.”

For some children, school is “their safe haven,” Hutchins noted.

She added, “We did not have the best, growing up, and I try to put myself in their place.”

Hutchins’ husband, Johnnie Hutchins, is a big-rig truck driver for SAIA. They married in 1985 and have a son, 32-year-old Kyle Hutchins, who teaches at Virginia Tech University.

Johnnie noted that his wife’s passion for working with children is inspirational.

“At one time, Theresa was working with special needs children,” Johnnie recalled, noting that for several years she had built a bond with a wheelchair-bound student who could not speak.

“But they could communicate,” Johnnie said. “Every kid loves her, it seems like, and she loves them. She loves kids, loves being around them all the time.”

Johnnie is a member of the Harmony Masonic Lodge of Morgan Mill, and Theresa volunteers to help with the annual ice cream freeze-off fundraiser.

During the COVID-19 school shutdown, she has been riding on one of the bus routes that delivers meals from the school cafeteria to students’ homes. On Thursdays, she also helps at Chamberlin Elementary School in bagging and loading food from the Tarrant Food Bank.

Starting about six years ago, she began noticing some of the kids are children whose parents she worked with early in her career.

One of her calling cards, to show endearment for the kids, is that she gives nicknames to the students. The nicknames can result from any number of characteristics.

“It just comes to me — something they do, something they say,” she said. “Some of them still go by those nicknames.”

After all these years, Hutchins still enjoys what she does.

“I love it. You get to build a relationship with the kids,” Hutchins said.

A while back, however, she had told everyone that she was going to make this her final year as a para-professional.

But when COVID-19 led to the schools shutting down and the students and teachers working online at home, Hutchins realized she was not ready for retirement after all.

“Just sitting around not being involved isn’t for me,” she said. “It made me appreciate what I’ve got.”

Reflecting on her career, Hutchins said, “It makes me proud if I even touched a handful of lives, steered them in the right direction, or just let them know that they are loved.”