Over the 22 years Cindy Clausen has spent driving buses for Princeton Public Schools, she's seen the good, the bad good, and the ugly good.
To Clausen, there's no better way to start her day than with the kids on her bus. "It gives me something to look forward to," she told A Plus. Not only do her students hug her good-bye in the morning, but after school, they can't wait to get back on the bus and tell her what they did during the day.
Their relationships — both with her and with each other — are nothing short of special. "It just warms your heart … just to see these kids treat each other with such respect. I mean, they don't even know what they're doing," she said. "They're so young and innocent, so when I see them reach out to help each other, it just warms my soul … It's so loving." Because she sees her students every day for years, she considers them all "a big family." Unlike a teacher who would only have her students for a year, Clausen has the same students year after year. "You kind of stay with them as they go up through the grades," she explained. "So their family really becomes part of my family."
Clausen works in the school's early intervention and special education program, and her passengers sometimes need a little extra help to get on and off the bus, like 7-year-old Jaxson Blue. Living with a degenerative condition, Blue sometimes has difficulty walking. One particular morning, he took a bit longer than usual to board the bus.
That was when, according to Clausen, a little girl, Annaliese, poked her head out from behind a bus seat and said, "Come on, Jaxson! You can do it! You can do it!" Clausen was incredibly touched. "It just hit me at that moment," she said. "It was just so warming."
When they got to school, Annaliese's brother Jorge picked up Blue's backpack and carried it into the school for him. Again, Clausen couldn't believe their inherent kindness. "Nobody asked them to help and they did this all on their own," she explained. "It just came to them naturally from how they were taught at home."
Clausen felt compelled to write a letter to Annaliese and Jorge's parents praising their children's thoughtful actions. "I just feel like so many times we take the time when we want to complain about something," she said. "It's a hard world today … so when I see this kind of kindness, I know that it's coming from the home. And I wanted the parents to know that whatever it is they're teaching their children — they're listening."
Though Clausen sent the letter to parents Jorge and Leonor via "snail mail," it somehow ended up on the "Love What Matters" Facebook page. She had no idea a picture of the letter was even posted online, much less had garnered nearly 50,000 likes, until various friends told her. Because Clausen had only intended for Annaliese and Jorge's parents to read the letter, she could hardly believe the positive response her small gesture had received once she saw it for herself.
Though Clausen is certainly glad thousands of people have also been touched by the story, she was still first and foremost interested in Jorge and Leonor's reaction to her letter. "When I asked the little girl about what Mommy and Daddy thought after the letter went out, and the little one told me that her mom and dad cried because they were so proud of them ... That's what really made me so happy," she said. Blue's mother, Belmax De Jesus, was also overjoyed by the letter, and its subsequent viral Facebook post, because she's happy to know other children like her son and want to spend time with him. According to Clausen, the three children not only sit together on the bus but have playdates.
Although many people have been inspired by the children's act of kindness, perhaps none have been more so than Clausen herself. "I'm just blessed to work in a great school system ... It kind of wears off on you. When you're around kind people and nice people, you feel good," she explained. "I just think being kind comes from the heart, and sometimes we just need a little reminder, that's all."