North Texas

‘Stranger Things' Star, Family Help Special Needs Kids in North Texas

Chester Rushing says it's important to "stand up for people who may not have a shoulder to lean upon"

In the hit Netflix series "Stranger Things," North Texas' Chester Rushing plays Tommy H., a high school student who's nothing but a grade-A jerk.

"I just read a Buzzfeed article about 'Stranger Things' and it said Tommy H. and (the character's girlfriend) Carol are the worst bullies in TV history," the Roanoke native laughed. "It's good to make people feel something and remember."

In real life, he's the complete opposite: eager to strike up a conversation with fans of the show, whose reaction he calls "very humbling," and raise awareness for a cause near and dear to his heart.

"I really do think it's important, now that we have a platform, to get in front of a bunch of people and speak out about certain things," Rushing said. "Or stand up for people who may not have a shoulder to lean upon."

For him, those people are children with special needs and their families.

"I think a lot of people out there need to realize that just because you have a learning difference, that shouldn't make a difference," Rushing said. "We're all here on this earth together."

Rushing has a cousin who was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. As a high school student, he volunteered as an aide in a middle school special education class. His fiancee, Ava, has a sister with autism and now runs an autism therapy center at a ranch. And his father, Chip, works for a nonprofit that helps families of special needs children in North Texas.

Their latest push is to give those families more options to have fun in their communities.

"It means a great deal to them to get out of the house with the children and be able to take them someplace," Chip Rushing said. "But there aren't a lot of places around here that will accommodate them."

The Rushings recently approached the management at the Cinemark theaters in Roanoke and asked if they would consider offering sensory theater screenings for special needs children and their families.

Because children with special needs can be more sensitive to light and sound, the screenings take place in theaters that aren't completely dark and that play films at a lower volume. Kids are also able to get up and move around the theater during the film.

"I said, 'If I can get enough people to come would, you do it?'" Chip Rushing recalled. "Two days later they came back and said, 'Yes, let's do it.'"

The theater hosted more than a dozen families Saturday for its first-ever sensory screening. Management has told the Rushings they'll do more of these events in the future.

Chester Rushing is encouraging other theaters in theDallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to do the same.

"Seeing their faces light up and that joy we can bring them through something like this. It's such a wonderful thing," said Chester Rushing. "Money can't buy the happiness."

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