February 06, 2013 - The click of a mouse is all it took to bring together a south county truck driver and eight young boys from New Jersey.
Ron Wagganer, of Lemay, has been writing letters to students at SINAI School in New Jersey, a Jewish special education school for students with developmental and learning disabilities, as part of a truck-driver pen-pal program called Trucker Buddy International.
SINAI teacher Dena Mayerfeld, who teaches the class partnered with Wagganer, said she was surfing the Internet trying to find "some motivating idea" to encourage the boys to write letters when she came across Trucker Buddy International.
"We want to give them some motivation to write, to express themselves, to share. These are all things that are hard for all of us to do …," she said.
Mayerfeld's first request for a buddy re-ceived no response, but at the beginning of this school year, her class was paired up with Wagganer.
"(The students were) very easily able to forge a relationship with him," Mayerfeld said. "It's been a win-win situation for us."
Wagganer, who first got involved with Trucker Buddy International about six years ago, said he sends students information about the mechanics of trucks, the Department of Transportation and rules and regulations.
Working with Wagganer has helped the middle school students' "social and emotional makeup," according to Mayerfeld.
After Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast in October, the boys shared their experiences from the event with Wagganer.
"Even for the boys to understand Hurricane Sandy (didn't affect St. Louis) ... was really an eye opener for some of them," Mayerfeld said.
Simon, a SINAI student, wrote to Wagganer that "a lot of trees fell down and block the roads. You could smell the wood chips in the air."
Other students, such as Gavi, told Wagganer they did not lose power, but others in their neighborhoods did.
"When the storm was over (I) saw (a) whole tree on a front lawn," Gavi wrote.
David, on the other hand, lost power along with the rest of his neighborhood.
"One night, my brother, my sister and I saw lights in the sky and it was the wires sparking," David wrote. "I heard scary whistling wind through the back door in the kitchen during the storm."
Chaim, whose home lost power, wrote about schools and banks being closed due to storm damage.
"There were some down wires. Many trees cracked. There were many ... sirens from fire trucks," Chaim wrote.
Another student, Benjy, compared Hurricane Sandy to an election.
"You never knew what the next minute brandished ...," Benjy wrote. "When I looked out the window, I saw a muss of leaves flying amok and pounding into my window with the wind."
Avi wrote about losing power and seeing downed trees and traffic issues.
"Police were controlling traffic because there wasn't power in the traffic lights," Avi wrote.
Aaron wrote that he noticed "a load of fallen trees, devastated houses, long gas lines and downed electrical lines."
Judah described seeing "tree(s) flying around the foggy neighborhood in the dark sky."
"I heard the crackling fireplace and the howling wind, roaring to be let in and roam free," Judah wrote.
Wagganer said reading about the students' experiences with Hurricane Sandy broke his heart.
"These young boys and their families are going through such a horrendous time there, such a dangerous time," he said. "It just touched me. It really, really touched me."
Though Wagganer has never met the students in person, he said he has a "really good relationship" with them.
"I have kids and grandkids myself and it's really nice, and it's nice to have their questions and see their interest," Wagganer said.
Mayerfeld said Wagganer writes often, and in his return letters, responds to each boy with a few lines if they ask him a specific question.
"The impact of this project is felt on the whole classroom," she said.
During Parent Day, at which various classroom activities were presented to parents, Mayerfeld said the boys showed pictures Wagganer sent, and gave a narrative explanation of the Trucker Buddy program.
"Even the most introverted kid came to life ... (and) participated like they never did before," Mayerfeld said.
The students plan to nominate Wagganer for Trucker Buddy of the Month, according to Mayerfeld. After learning of the intent to nominate him, Wagganer said that is "quite an honor."
"What I'm doing is such a minor thing," he said. "The kids can do what they want, but that's nice that they would want to do something like that, it really is. I don't know what to say.
"Every time something happens I get humbled ... It's just beyond words to me. It's wonderful that these kids are that enthusiastic ..."
Wagganer said through being involved in Trucker Buddy International, he has gotten the "satisfaction of knowing that I'm trying to help the younger generation understand the trucking industry."
His time communicating with the students at SINAI has been wonderful, he said.
"These kids up there, they're really good kids. They send me some of the most wonderful letters, they really do," Wagganer said. "I wish all the truck drivers would have Trucker Buddies ..."
Below are the students' letters to Ron Wagganer:
Dear Mr. Wagganer,
Thanks for the letters. Can you send a picture of the Gateway Arch? What is your favorite part of your job? hat is the most interesting thing in your truck?
A tree fell on our neighbor's fence and it bent it like a toothpick. I noticed a load of fallen trees, devastated houses, long gas lines and downed electrical lines. The crew that brought back our power was from Georgia or Florida. There was a large need for utility workers. We were off school for a week because the school lost power.
Want to hear something funny? The day I ended up going back to school, school lost power. Then I drove back home. The school got its power back and I drove back to school. Want to hear a joke? How is Hurricane Sandy like Xmas? You wake up and there's a tree in your living room.
Interesting things are happening in my life. I just turned bar mitzvah. Bar mitzvah is when I turned 13. I had a celebration. Thank you for the pictures you sent.
Dear Mr Wagganer,
Around two months ago, I went on a grade hiking trip up a mountain.After we got there and got on the trail, we soon we passed a lake. While we where hiking up the mountain we stopped at a rock were we climbed up and took a grade picture. Then eventually we got to another lake.
I have some questions to ask you. How do you find a trucker you want to talk to on the CB radio? Are you allowed to use the CB radio while driving? Do you drive through some part of the night some time?
Around three weeks ago Hurricane Sandy did some damage. I lost power on Monday night. I saw there was a tree down on the street up the block from me. The tree was cleared a few days later.
There was a road block in a main street where there were branches down. I had to go around the road while going places which I may normally use the street to get to. Police were controlling traffic because there wasn't power in the traffic lights. There were some shingles blown off the roof. We fried food on the stove. Because the gas was still working we could use a lighter to light the stove.
We were off from school for a week because of the hurricane.
Dear Mr. Wagganer,
The past few days, I've been feeling very jokey! Speaking of which, what is the Three Stooges' idea of a joke? A punch! Ha, ha.
There are a few questions that I wanted to ask you. In your last letter you mentioned downtown St. Louis. Could you tell me more about it in your next letter? Have you ever been outside the continent? What are some of your hobbies? Lastly, in your last letter, what did you mean when you said that your dog goes out in the car with us some?
A few weeks ago, I took a short flight into New York City with my parents due to a minor medical problem. Everything went all right. So, since it was on the same block, we went to a kosher Chinese restaurant named Eden Wok, where I got a sushi roll and a dish they call lemon chicken. Then, we went to Mendy's (which was also on the same block) and got some food for the High Holidays, which began that very night.
Below is a page guaranteed to clue you in on the effects of Hurricane Sandy.
All in all, Hurricane Sandy was a lot like the election; you never knew what the next minute brandished. (It was the same way all the rest of the next school-free week, but I was too bored to consider it). When it hit, we often were around the computer, radio, or sitting on the couch. Note that we never lost power, but also note that the lights occasionally would flicker for a millionth of a second.
When I looked out the window, I saw a muss of leaves flying amok and pounding into my window with the wind (which I certainly heard!). There was a cluster of aged trees to the right of the window.
In the wind, they seemed too have no place to sway but towards each other. By the time I went to bed, the gale, too, was slowly starting to retire. By the time I woke up, it was an unheard breeze.
Well, I guess that wraps my letter up.
Can't wait to get your upcoming letter,
Dear Mr. Waggener,
Hi, Mr. Wagganer. Thanks for the letter.
My favorite meal is dinner because I have chicken and rice. One of my favorite ice cream flavors is vanilla. I don't have a favorite sports team. I like to hang out with twin brother. His name is Yisral.
My family lost power from the Hurricane Sandy. We had no school for one week because the hurricane damaged some of the school and the lights were out for five days. Some banks were closed and stores were closed. Some street lights were down. Some buildings were closed. There were some down wires. Many trees cracked. There were many sirens from fire trucks.
I have some questions for you:
• What is your favorite meal?
• Do you drive an 18-wheeler truck?
• Please describe the cab of your truck.
I hope you enjoy the letter.
Dear Mr. Wagganer,
Thank you for responding to my letter. I like to play sports. I like to play basketball and soccer, they are really fun sports to play. Sometimes school is fun. My favorite subjects are all of them because they teach me new things. I study math, reading, social studies, and Hebrew studies. The Hebrew studies are the best classes.
I like to play on the iPod Touch at home because we have lots of games. We have the full version of Cut the Rope, Temple Run and Subway Surfers. I think we have the full version of Glass Tower, free Boggle and more.
Did you get the storm called Hurricane Sandy? I saw the lights flickered on and off and I think we were out of power in the morning. The whole block was out of power and I saw a few generators. One night, my brother, my sister, and I saw lights in the sky and it was the wires sparking.
I heard scary whistling wind through the back door in the kitchen during the storm. I heard the alarm beeping and during the storm I could hear generators when I was inside and outside. I heard trees falling and branches falling.
After the storm, my brother and I touched branches and I raked leaves and branches from my yard into the street. After the storm I smelled the gas from the generator when it was on when I was outside. This is what happened during the storm which was on the news. The boardwalks got flooded, trees fell on houses, and luckily there was no damage to my house. I didn't have power for six days.
The whole block was out of power. We have a big generator. We got our power back on Nov. 3, right after lunch. We were so lucky to have a generator and we did not have any school for a whole week because the school did not have any power. My next door neighbor was the first one out of power on our block. There were a lot of branches and leaves on lawns and on the driveways and some of the branches that were big and small.
Do you ever get any storms there? What do you do in your free time? How much mail do you deliver? How long is your truck? How much does your truck weigh? How many trucks are there at the company? What is the mileage on your truck? What temperature is it there now? Does your truck have a radio? Do you listen to the radio?
I really hope that you enjoyed my letter!
Dear Mr. Wagganer,
Thanks for the great letter to me.
My favorite team in baseball is the team of the New York Yankees because they have very good players. On Sundays I like to watch movies, especially Kung fu Panda. My house is very nice because it has a pool in the backyard with different plants. Also, I have nice rooms inside the house.
When Hurricane Sandy came, there was a tree that I saw that was down on the side of a house in a different neighborhood, but not in my neighborhood.
As to the power, I had power, but a lot of people in my neighborhood did not. The news reporters said Long Island was the worst. A lot of my neighbors' houses had blackouts. The lights just flickered. When the storm was over, (I) saw (a) whole tree on a front lawn. I heard a lot of wild winds when I was outside. During the blackout, I heard beep sound when the lights flickered.
I have some questions for you:
• Why do you like the Cardinals?
• Tell me about the towns you deliver in.
• Do you like any movies?
I have a rhyme–poem for you: Mister Wagganer, Mister Wagganer does Derivering all day. You work on getting stuff from place to place. You work on getting faster and faster with VEHICLE. YOU MIGHT BRING FOOD, FURNITURE AND OTHER THINGS YOU MIGHT NEED TO BRING MISTER WAGGANER, MISTER WAGGANER, THANK YOU FOR THE LETTER.
Thank you for telling me about you and answering all my questions.
Dear Mr. Wagganer,
Hullo. I like your pictures. I have a few random questions to ask. What was the most interesting thing you carried in your truck? Is Lee aggressive? Have you ever seen a Shakespearean play?
This was my experience with Hurricane Sandy:
I saw trees flying around the foggy neighborhood in the dark sky. This hurricane was not minor. It was major. I heard the crackling fireplace and the howling wind, roaring to be let in and roam free.
But the cold air kept blowing on my face, so I went to bed. The next night we roasted marshmallows and an aroma filled my nostrils. Days passed without power, Sunday came and went and finally we got power restored. Because of Hurricane Sandy we didn't have school for a week. And that is why our letter is so delayed.
Thank you for your last letter and pictures. Today I am having my seventh fencing lesson. I find it fun. I have learned a lot of different moves.
Hurricane Sandy started on Oct. 29, '12.The hurricane tock a devastating toll on N.J. There were electrical wires everywhere. After the storm, gas stations were wrecked and there was less gas. So the state said that if you had an odd-number license plate, you go on one day and if you had an even license plate, you go on another day. During the storm, there was a lot of bright lighting. After, a lot of trees fell down and block the roads. You could smell the wood chips in the air. The trees were very soggy. You could taste the water and dust in the air.The storm talk a terrible toll on N.J.