Tucson, Arizona 2022-05-15 10:00:00 –
Outside Brenman Elementary School on Wednesday morning, crossing guard Vernon Williams is sweating from all the joy he is spreading.
Employees of the Tucson Unified School District dance, wave and kiss passing cars and people from his corner on Country Club Road, where Elm becomes Pima Street.
When he catches someone’s eye, he provides a virtual hug by folding his arms across his chest and squeezing his own shoulders. When he sees his fellow veteran, he stands with attention and gives a refreshing salute.
Anyone riding a bicycle or driving with the window down can expect a cheerful scream.
“Wednesday hug!” He yells at the woman who lowers her window as soon as she sees him. “Two days left! You got this!”
“See you tomorrow,” the woman replies.
Elm’s red light stops the work truck towing the flatbed trailer.
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“Let’s go get the money!” Vernon tells the driver. “You’re making a lot, so you had to get a trailer!”
A man in an orange T-shirt sticks his arm out of the truck window and raises his enthusiastic thumbs up.
Across the crossroads, fellow Brenman crossing guard Sevrina Reese waved and cooked, “Good morning!”. Her own herself.
Not everyone responds. Many do so.
Every few minutes, the driver honks the horn several times as he rolls over the intersection. “Happy horn car” and Reese call them.
One driver provided Vernon with a distracting half-wave without letting go of the steering wheel, so he doubled down, kissed his hand and threw it at her like a Frisbee.
She is still laughing when the light changes and runs away by car.
“You are safe now!” Vernon tells her. “safely!”
And there are children.
“Good morning, sunshine!” He yells at a girl as she arrives at the corner with her mother and is ready to cross. “I was waiting for you all!”
The girl smiles shyly and shuffles to school.
Vernon states that he and Reese have a mission. “Our goal is to make this the most friendly corner in Tucson.”
For what he says next, he can also say that means it.
“The life I lived in was a joke, so I have to find fun in everything,” explains a 60-year-old man. “This is fun. I get paid for playing on the street.”
Vernon heard about his job at TUSD from a friend of the church who works as a cross-guard.
When he submitted the application, he also gave them some testimonials, some counseling certificates he had obtained, and who he was and who he is now. He says he provided his own full background check as he can know.
Surprisingly, he was offered a spot for Brenman in March 2020.
“They gave me a second chance when I didn’t think it was worth it,” he says. “And what do you think happened? Immediately after I was hired, a bum, a pandemic came.”
For the first year, he checked the surroundings at a vacant school and handed out lunch boxes to his family in the parking lot. He couldn’t push his stuff to the corner until his face-to-face lessons resumed in March 2021.
It was Reese’s idea to wave his hand.
She has been a parent volunteer at Brenman for over a decade. Since her eldest daughter (now 18 years old) was a kindergarten child. She eventually joined the paid staff as a crossing guard and a hall monitor.
About two years ago, she found herself working alone at a busy, narrow intersection after her former crossing guard partner retired. At that time, Reese was waving to her passing driver and others she could see in order to keep her moving.
Recently, her right hand stops moving back and forth only when she is escorting children across the street with a stop sign. “On weekends, it’s like,’Oh, I can’t move this arm,'” she says with a laugh.
He has taken things to a whole new level since Vernon joined her in the corner last year.
“Dance and jump—it’s too much coffee for me,” says Reese.
It sometimes seems a little distracting, but that’s a point. People tend to slow down when they see Vernon or hear his screams. “If someone is looking at me, they aren’t looking down at their phone,” he says.
Brenman’s parent, Veronica Johns, gets a big kick from a security guard at a crossroads in her friendly neighborhood, and so does her son Martin, 6 and William, 11 years old.
“It’s really fun,” Johns said after walking her boy in the corner so that Reese could safely cross the country club. “Everyone seems very excited to see them.”
A Vernon therapist at the Veterans’ Hospital taught him the value of taking in the sun.
“They said,’Open the blinds and greet the morning,’ and I started it,” he says. Then my Christian belief made me say, “Good morning, Lord.”
By crossing guard, he can give people a try. “Waveting to everyone every morning is a big part of my recovery,” he says.
Vernon was born in 1962 in Fort Hood, Texas. This is the oldest of the four children of the military family who have traveled all over the country.
After stopping in Georgia, Oklahoma, California, New Jersey, and Missouri, I graduated from high school in Fort Riley, Kansas, but didn’t get enough grades to go on to college. Vernon enlisted in 1980 because his dad, a veteran of the Vietnam War’s three tours, suggested that he try the Army.
A year later, while he was stationed in Panama, the communications truck he was riding blew his tires off, rolled down a 25-foot cliff, and slingshot him through the windshield.
“There were 375 sutures on my face,” he says. “They put me in a coma to reduce the swelling of my brain.”
Forty-five days after the hospital, he was sent back to his unit to handle confidential codebooks and confidential communications equipment in an underground vault, but the accident plagued him.
“I had nightmares and night terrors. I continued to relive punks and rollovers,” he says.
Vernon started “self-medication” with alcohol and street drugs. He says he completed his Army mission in 1986 with the prestigious discharge and cocaine habits.
After that, he worked in the service industry in places like Wichita, Kansas, Oklahoma City, and finally Phoenix, and was deeply sunk into drugs and depression.
He was confused by the gang and spent years inside and outside prison cells, drug treatment centers and psychiatric facilities. Finally, in the late 1990s, he says police wiped him out along Phoenix’s infamous Van Buren Avenue as part of a drug stab wound called an Operation Corner Stop. He will spend the next six years in prison for trafficking and selling crack cocaine.
After being released, Vernon came to Tucson to complete six months of probation at an intermediate home for veterans. Meanwhile, he continued his Pima Community College class, which he started behind the bar. But his calm didn’t last long.
“I continued to relapse and ended up in a mental health ward,” he says. “Once upon a time, suicide was very attractive to me because I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t put it together and why I wasn’t normal.”
Within two years of prison, Vernon became homeless on the south side of Tucson. There, he regularly blew off the monthly disability benefits of drugs and alcohol for him and a friend he would have always had until he broke again.
Vernon acknowledges that the Gospel Rescue Mission and the Department of Veterans Affairs’ outpatient PTSD program ultimately helped break the cycle of addiction and mental illness, but that didn’t happen immediately. He says he finally relapsed again in 2015 after graduating from the rescue mission’s Life Recovery Program and meeting one of his wife’s online mothers.
“I was suffering from depression, and depression immobilizes you,” says Vernon. “I used to be in the room with my boobs tube on and closed the shade with a blanket. I was in a dark, dark cave.”
He says his stepdaughter gave him the nudge he needed to finally return to treatment again.
“She came and said to me,’Don’t you think you need to go back to the hospital? You’re no longer playing with me. You just stay in this dark room. You’re not funny.” He says. I went to the Department of Veterans Affairs and checked in myself. “
On May 3rd, Vernon celebrated seven years of cleanliness and soberness. He is currently studying for a priesthood through the Morningstar Missionary Baptist Church and is doing anything else he can think of to protect himself from the darkness.
“If I can say something to a veteran or someone suffering from trauma, I’m asking for help,” he says. “We have this stigma that it’s broken and can’t be fixed, but it’s not. Reach out and ask for help before you kill yourself.”
In August, TUSD launched a new video series called “Everyday Heroes” on the YouTube channel. Vernon was the first district employee to be featured.
He usually arrives at Brenman around 6:30 am, more than an hour before the shift begins, so he can unfold the school zone signs and help raise the flag in front of the office.
“It’s not part of my job, because I’m a veteran,” he says.
Most days he is in his corner by about 7:15. In other words, I’m waving for free for the first 30 minutes. Officially, Vernon is on time from 7:45 to 9am and will be back in the afternoon for another 45 minutes after school. At that time, he may give students lollipops as a reward for attending the class.
To emphasize his sunny propensity, he wears a daylight color under a yellow safety vest. This Wednesday, we have matching shirts and shorts with the fiery Hawaiian sunset. In winter, he switches to the largest and most colorful sweatpants he can find.
“It’s about getting people’s attention. How can I overrun me when I’m dressed like this?” He says. “I want to be seen when I’m crossing the kids. I don’t want you to tell me why you didn’t see me.”
This work helped him get to know many children in the neighborhood, not just Brenman’s children.
There is a school nursery kitty corner, and Vernon says a boy who came down there “refuses to go in until I wave to him.”
As some students from the nearby Catalina High School get off the city bus and cross his corner, Vernon greets one of them with a fist bump and some questions about the life of a young man.
“What?” He calls out as the teenager continues to attend school.
“Education!” High school students answer with a backward look and a smile.
Vernon emits a beam in bright sunlight.
“I love seeing their faces change. I get a sense of fulfillment every morning,” he says. “They think I’m encouraging them, but when they see them smiling, I’m faced with that day.”
Disabled vet finds new mission at Tucson’s friendliest corner | Local news Source link Disabled vet finds new mission at Tucson’s friendliest corner | Local news