Well Done, Buddy!
by Duff McCutcheon
When a young lad in Harpersville, N.Y. heard talk around the playground that
maybe Santa Claus didn't exist after all, he sought solace from an unusual source.
He turned to his Trucker Buddy, Pauline Nelson of Windsor, Ont.
"He was very upset about that, but I tried to cheer him up a little bit,"
she says. Another of her young pen pals complained about an evil stepmother,
while another wrote about her life in a foster home. "Sometimes they tell
me personal things and you just try to make them feel good about their situations.
I'm like a confidant."
Trucker Buddy International is a non-profit outfit that matches drivers with
elementary school classrooms in Canada and the U.S., as well as Mexico, France,
Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Kuwait. Founded in 1993, the organization now boasts
4,000 drivers communicating with more than 100,000 grade 2-8 students around
the world. The Trucker Buddies send pictures, postcards, notes, letters, e-mails,
or photos to the children in their assigned class each week so that the students
can track the driver's travel on maps in the classroom. In return, all the students
write individual letters to their Trucker Buddy at least once a month.
Pauline and her husband Gary were recognized at the Mid-America Trucking Show
recently as one of a group of 12 Trucker Buddies of the Month for 2004 (October),
along with two other Canadians: Calgary trucker Fred Steudle (June), and Anthony
Slauenwhite of Bridgewater, N.S. (September). The trio is among 82 Canadians
participating in the Trucker Buddy program.
"The truckers write about what they see on the road and the places they've
been, as well as safety messages. They'll tell them about the no-go zone areas
around the truck, plus the standard 'don't do drugs, study hard, stay in school,
and mind your parents,'" says Trucker Buddy's Char Pingle.
The Nelsons - an owner-operator combo hauling freight between Windsor and Texas
for Transport Robert - have been Trucker Buddies since 2003 and are currently
corresponding with 75 grade 4 students in Harpersville, N.Y. "Part of their
curriculum involves writing a formal letter, so the teacher asked me to do that.
They're one-page notes and I answer their questions and ask them questions in
return. It also helps with math, because we tell them where we have to be, how
many miles it is, and when we have to get there and they figure it out. And
we teach them about geography because we explain where we go and the differences
between those places and where they live."
Calgary's Fred Steudle was Canada's first Trucker Buddy, and actually had his
own program corresponding with a Calgary classroom when he heard about Trucker
Buddy International. The Heyl Truck Lines driver contacted the organization
in 1996 and decided to roll his own project into the broader Trucker Buddy program.
"The kids really provide a different perspective on driving because they're
unlikely to ever get a chance to visit all the places we talk about. They think
it's amazing that we get to go to all these places, while we drivers just take
it for granted."
If you're a young student corresponding with Steudle, you can expect some homework
assignments, like identifying different cities on a map, as well as filling
out logbooks on everything they do at school and chores at home. However, the
work pays off at the end of the year. Steudle awards points for all completed
assignments, and during classroom visits he holds an auction where the kids
can use their points to bid on trinkets - t-shirts, hats, keychains - that he's
picked up on his travels.
Anthony Slauenwhite, known to his class as Trucker Buddy Tony, first got involved
with the program in September 2003, and has been corresponding with the same
teacher, Bethany Milburn (grade 2) of Kennebunk, Maine, ever since. This year
he has a class of 18. Actually, Anthony shares the pleasure of being a Trucker
Buddy with his wife Lucy (known as Big Mamma Lucy), a non-trucker with a full-time
job at home in Bridgewater.
"I send along a handful of post cards every week, and at least one letter,"
he says. "But Lucy e-mails the class everyday with news that I send home
on the phone. She really does a terrific job of keeping us all in touch. And
she's a real pro at the Dollar Store."
Lucy gathers up lots of little trinkets to send down to the kids in a big gift
bag, along with coloring books, videos, and brochures that he collects on his
travels. He says Howells Travel Center in Kittery, Maine, the Atlantic Provinces
Trucking Association, and his company, GTS Transportation of Dartmouth, N.S.,
all help by donating material to the cause.
The biggest thrill of all came in April 2004 when the couple drove down to visit
the class for the first time. Anthony had asked for a class that was on his
main travel corridor, I-95, and was fortunate to get the class in Kennebunk.
"Before the visit, I was really nervous about meeting them. I'm not really
a people person," he says. "But seeing the smiles on their faces as
we came through the door made all the nervousness fade away."
After the visit, the couple met with parents and local media, before they were
treated to a spaghetti dinner and put up for the night at a local family's home.
The Nelsons have also dropped by the Harpersville school to meet their young
penpals. "The kids went through the truck and the school had a big assembly
for us before we left. It's amazing to think that we're perfect strangers to
these kids but there's such a connection through our correspondence," says
The couple first heard about Trucker Buddies on one of the truck shows they
listen to on the radio. "We've got nine grandkids and most of them are
very interested in trucking so I figured there's got to be lots of other kids
who are interested. They see the big trucks going by and wonder where they're
going. When I was a kid I never got a chance to travel and now I know what a
beautiful continent we live in and I try to share that."
If you have ever had an inkling to share all the good things about trucking,
and make a real difference in someone's life at the same time, Trucker Buddy
is worth considering. Your editor Jim Park was a Trucker Buddy for two years
prior to 'retiring' from active service. He had a class in Redmond, Wa., and
really enjoyed the interaction with the youngsters.
"It really was quite a thrill sharing my travels and my observations from
the road with the gang in Redmond," he says. "What seemed pretty mundane
to me allowed them a window into a world many of them may never see. Try describing
the endless miles of Canadian prairie to a kid who lives in the Pacific Northwest."
But when the kids sent back pictures they had drawn of what Park described in
his letters, it literally brought tears to his eyes.
"Nothing could have prepared me for the impact of those pictures. I had
simply described a place I had driven through, and they dug into their imaginations
to create those pictures," he says. "I knew I had touched them, and
then I realized the awesome privilege and responsibility that comes with being
a friend to those little folk."
Trucker Buddy International is on the lookout for more Canadian Trucker Buddies.
There are presently about 400 classes on the waiting list, so if you think you
might like to become a Trucker Buddy, check out their website at www.truckerbuddy.org,
email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (800) MY-BUDDY.