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Sweetwater ISD students help former janitor who has kidney failure

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SWEETWATER, Tx - Billy Ray Robinson walked the halls of Sweetwater Middle School for 11 years as a head janitor who also gave encouragement to students, but years later it's the former students he worked with that are helping him.

Growing up, Robinson met a janitor who used to give kids five dollars if they got good grades on their report cards. Robinson thought if he could also make an impact on a child's life he would do the same. And he did -- for months, Robinson would reach out to any kids struggling in school and offer them the same deal.

One day, a student's grandfather told Sweetwater Middle School Principal Jeff Withrow that Robinson was giving money to children. Withrow told Robinson he could continue helping out kids but they would choose what kids deserved the reward together.

"He was just the kind of person that our students and faculty and staff and wanted to be around," Withrow said. "He was always a gracious man he would help you out and way he could."

In December, Robinson was rushed to the hospital, and doctors told him his kidneys were failing.

Because of his illness Robinson has dialysis appointments three days a week in Abilene, a schedule he said doesn't allow him to work. He said he qualifies for Medicaid, which helps with his medical expenses but doesn't pay the bills or put food on the table for him and his wife, who is also ill.

Students at Sweetwater Middle School wanted to give back to Robinson.

Throughout the year, a group of kids in the Pursuing Excellence program helped clean Robinson's backyard. The program has dozens of kids that are chosen by teachers to help lead their classes in community projects, including helping Robinson with his medical costs.

They held a dodge ball tournament that raised $1,700 for Robinson and sold bottled water at the Rattlesnake Roundup that raised $900. The students also worked with nearby businesses like U.S. Gypsum and Family RV Center to raise money. The school then invited Robinson to a pep rally and presented him with a check to help with expenses. Robinson said the moment brought him to tears.

"It did make me feel good inside because I knew that them kids loved me, and I loved them," Robinson said. "It make me feel good inside."

Robinson said he hopes the kids stay in touch, adding that he loves when eighth graders send him invitations to their high school graduations.

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