Delivering a Safety Message to Schoolchildren
Anyone witnessing the scene outside of Highland Elementary School in Ambridge, Pa., on a recent Friday morning could have easily thought that the group of 60+ fourth graders gathered on the playground were cheering wildly and waving homemade signs in anticipation of meeting their favorite pop star or professional athlete.
But that wasn’t the case. This group of 9-year-olds was waiting for Don Nehring, a professional truck driver and independent contractor for FedEx Ground, with whom they’ve exchanged letters and postcards for most of the school year.
Through the Trucker Buddy International program, professional truckers like Don are matched up with an elementary school class. Via a penpal relationship, the kids track Don’s travels as well as work on geography and math problems that can be encountered every day on the road. Then usually once a year, the kids get to meet their Trucker Buddy live and in person.
Don has been involved in the program since 2001, and even served for a year as the group’s volunteer president. He exudes an infectious enthusiasm that has helped to get close to 50 other FedEx drivers involved in the program.
After the thunderous rockstar greeting, Don does get serious in his presentation and Q&A with the kids where his themes are easy to remember and meant to be sturdy building blocks:
- Stay in school and study hard
- Ask every adult driving a car you’re in to wear their seat belts and drive the speed limit
- Learn to read road maps and don’t rely exclusively on GPS and other technology
Amidst the numerous comments like “Mr. Don is great” and “Mr. Don is the best,” it’s Don himself who says he gets the most of out of the Trucker Buddy program.
“The most fulfilling part of this program is seeing the changes in the children over just one school year,“ he says. “Their writing and general communications skills improve dramatically and their confidence levels go up. Knowing that I’ve played a small part in that is all the payment I need.”
The only sad note in this whole story is that corporate sponsorships and other funding for Trucker Buddy International have plummeted this year. Here’s hoping that situation can be worked out so the number of school children touched by program can grow beyond the current 3 million in the past 10 years.