A few minutes with … a woman who guards the children – Detroit Free Press
I have driven past her a number of times. She’s up early, wearing a bright orange vest, holding her big red stop sign.
I’ve watched her as I roll by, or as I idle at the red light. She holds her sign high, raises her other hand in a “stop” gesture and steps off the curb, escorting the children safely across the busy intersection on their way to nearby Vernor Elementary.
Gwendolyn Britton is a school crossing guard at Pembroke and Schaefer on Detroit’s northwest side. The 77-year-old is at the corner every school day by 7:30. She returns in the afternoon to help the kids then, too.
The other day, I finally stopped and got out. She was kind enough to chat for a few minutes while she waited for more kids to come by.
Tell me why you’re a crossing guard.
It gives me an opportunity to meet the children, to see them as they’re crossing, going back and forth, going to school. And there’s much life in young people. Ã¢Â€Â¦ Some of the young people I’ve seen now who are in college tell me, “Oh, I remember you! You’re still there?” Yeah. So time moves on. The kids grow up. It’s a blessing to be able to see them and to be around them. There’s something special about children. Young people. They give you life.
So have you always been on this corner? At Pembroke and Schaefer?
I’ve had this corner for almost 12 years.
How did you get started doing this?
Well, when I was carrying my grandchildren to the bus stop, in the car driving by in the morning, I said, “Oh, that is something I would like to do.” So when the kids grew up, they were big enough to go to school, the opportunity came and I was able to get this corner.
Do you ever have any problems with the traffic? Ever been any close calls?
Well, you know there’s always a chance of having a close call, but you hope for the lights. If the lights are going, working, that makes it good. Sometimes the lights are not working, and then it’s really scary.
Yeah, I can imagine.
Because people don’t want to stop.
Do you have to go out there and wave your stop sign?
I try to wait till the traffic is low because cars don’t respect a sign. Ã¢Â€Â¦ So I have to be very careful.
Do you get paid or is this a volunteer thing?
(Chuckles.) No, we get paid. It’s through the city. It’s a city job.
So you’re out here in the wintertime, in bad weather?
Oh, yes, yes, yes. (Smiles.) I just dress for it. Put on plenty of clothes.
Are you retired? What did you used to do?
Yes, I’m retired. I used to work for the American Red Cross.
So you’ve always been in a service-type position in your life. What is it about service that you like?
Well, you can be with people. You meet people. It’s nice to be able to talk to people. And do what you can. Because we all will need services some time or another. We all need somebody.
Why are you in the city?
My children live here. And I get to see about my grandchildren. So it’s home.
And you’re helping keep kids safe every day.
What do they say to you when they come by?
Oh, they’ll say good morning, or if it’s in the morning, they don’t have too much to say. They’re trying to get down the road. (Laughs.) But in the evening, they’ll talk, and they’ll show me their report card if they got their report card.
Have you ever had anybody Ã¢Â€Â” unfortunately Ã¢Â€Â” get hurt?
No. I thank the Lord about that, no. That’s a fearful thing to think about, children getting hit by a car.
So, you’re 77, you’re retired. You could be sittin’ at home, just takin’ it easy every day.
Oh, who wants to sit home? (Laughs.) Nobody wants to just sit down. Then your legs get stiff and your bones get to creakin’. I’m glad to get up and get out. I love to walk. I’ve always been a person who loves to walk, so this gives me an opportunity to get exercise and to do a job.
And to be with children?
To be with the children, yes. I enjoy the children. As I said, something real special about children. They’re still innocent and young and have dreams. You can talk with them and encourage ’em, and you see those going to high school, encourage ’em to keep going. ‘Cause there’s a better life if they keep moving, you know, keep doing things they should do.
That’s great. Anything else you want to say that I should have asked you?
No, I can’t think of anything else, but it’s good seeing you here. Ã¢Â€Â¦ I’m glad to see you here, that you’re interested in the city.
Contact Jim Schaefer: 313-223-4542 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DetroitReporter.