Bus driver's kind act leads to community support for teen's track dreams (2024)

STONINGTON, Conn. — A local bus driver recently went above and beyond to help a teenager who wanted to run track but couldn't afford the apparel it requires.

Raylene Whitford is a bus operator for South East Area Transit, also known as 'SEAT.' The bus acts as an Uber.

For a low fare, people call in, and then the bus picks people up and drops them off wherever they'd like to go in between Pawcatuck, Stonington and Mystic.

Whitford, has worked as an operator for 16 years, prior to that she drove school buses.

“I’ve always enjoyed driving," said Whitford. “There are wealthy people who ride the bus, people who are less fortunate, and you get to know a lot of different people, and you get to hear everybody’s story and everybody’s struggle.”

She said over the years, in some cases, she's developed friendships with people who frequently ride the bus.

Whitford also offers an ear if they need someone to talk to.

“I don’t judge anyone. I enjoy my job and I enjoy the people that I work with," she said. “It’s their means of transportation, and you get to know a lot of people and the people that ride the bus are good, good people.”

According to Whitford, a mother and her teenage son ride her bus often.

She picks up and drops off a 13-year-old from the gym frequently, and a few weeks ago she overheard a conversation between him and his mother.

The boy had asked his mom if he could join his school's track team.

Unfortunately, she told him money was too tight to buy running shoes.

“They were having a conversation and I kind of butted in and said, 'Do you mind if I post something and ask for a gently worn pair of sneakers?" said Whitford. "So I made a post in the Stonington forum asking if anyone had a pair of used running shoes they would be willing to give me."

Whitford, is a mom of three boys.

She said she's been in the same shoes as the woman whose son she was hoping to help.

“I was a single mother so I understand the struggle, even now I still do six days a week and it can be a lot," she said. “My thought is, they don’t ask to come into this world, but it’s our job to do whatever we can to see that they grow and they flourish and they survive.”

A few hours after putting the post on Facebook, dozens of people began reaching out.

“The amount of people that offered to donate money for new sneakers was overwhelming," said Whitford. “People were asking could they donate money, could they send me gift cards to like Dicks or Kelley’s Pace and I had no idea what Kelley’s Pace was.”

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Jeff Anderson and his wife Candace own Kelley's Pace in the Old Mystic Village.

The couple took it over 10 years ago, though it's been around for 45 years.

“People come here for running shoes and walking shoes. We also have a lot of doctor referrals," said Anderson. “It’s been great, it's been really nice because we meet a lot of people. It's family oriented and we service locals as well as tourists in the area.”

Anderson is a father of four.

“I have four kids. I know what it costs to fit them with shoes," he said.

His wife reached out on Whitford's Facebook post about the child needing shoes which read in part;

Please take him to Kelley’s Pace. My husband owns it. He will take care of the cost and they will make sure he’s well fitted. This store is all abt meeting the needs of the community to the best of its ability. It’s ppl like you who restore my faith in humanity. THANK YOU for the job you do and for going above and beyond!

The Anderson's got in contact with Whitford, who relayed the message to the family. The teen went into the store, picked out a pair of running shoes, and was fitted for them free of charge.

“It just renewed my faith in the community like it was truly a beautiful thing. I get goosebumps talking about it because it is amazing," said Whitford. “There was a mother that donated a t-shirt from the middle school so that he would look like everybody else."

“We feel it’s our obligation to give back to the community as best as we can," said Anderson. “Besides being comfortable in the fit, I think it makes you feel really good because you’re not left out or feel different from other people."

After receiving the new shoes, the boy and his mom wrote thank-you letters to the Anderson's.

The boy's letter put an emphasis on the act of kindness and how much it meant to him to have strangers lend a helping hand to provide him with an opportunity he once dreamed of.

"They were so grateful they got new shoes. They thought they were going to get an old pair of shoes or something, but we treat everybody with respect and want to make sure everyone has the right footwear," said Anderson. “It makes us feel good, it's something we can do and want to do it, and we feel you can’t change the world but sometimes you can change one person."

Whitford said the boy and his mom still ride the bus. They also thanked her immensely.

“She calls me her angel and I’m really not. I didn't do anything but make a post, the community did everything," she said. "I don’t see myself as anyone special. It’s the Stonington community that I just can’t even put into words.”

Bus driver's kind act leads to community support for teen's track dreams (2024)
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