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Bus Driver Steers Youth in Right Direction

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Bus Driver Steers Youth in Right Direction

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Bus Driver Steers Youth in Right Direction

Bus Driver Steers Youth in Right Direction

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Tanya Walters is a bus driver for the Los Angeles Unified School District. Each year, in addition to her "day job," Walters takes inner-city children on a bus tour of America. Through Godparents Youth Organization, which she founded, students are taught a message of hope. Walters and a former student discuss the mission behind the travels.

CALLIE CROSSLEY, host:

Taking a bus trip across the country may not seem glamorous, but for some Los Angeles students, a special kind of road trip takes them to a world they would never get a chance to see.

Three times a year, bus driver Tanya Walters takes a group of LA's urban teenagers for a nationwide tour with stops at sites that focus on their history and heritage.

Her Godparents Youth Organization sponsors the trips, pairing the kids with mentors from their community.

Joining us is Tanya Walters, bus driver with the Los Angeles Unified School District and founder and CEO of the Godparents Youth Organization. Also, Anthony Cole, a former student in the organization. They are both in Dallas, Texas. Thank you both for joining me.

Ms. TANYA WALTERS (Founder and CEO, Godparents Youth Organization): Thank you for having us.

Mr. ANTHONY COLE (Student, Paul Quinn College): Thank you so much.

CROSSLEY: Tanya, I'm going to start with you. You use your own money and time to organize these bus tours. Why?

Ms. WALTERS: Why? Because I saw a need. And as a school bus driver, you know, we're not just school bus drivers. Sometimes, we have to counsel. Sometimes, we have to teach. And I used what I had - the simple form of a school bus, a day-to-day job that some look at - and I used it to create an avenue to teach and to inspire youth to be more than just the regular, stay-at-home, I-don't-want-to-be-anything. I motivated them through travel.

CROSSLEY: And I think it's fair to say that you're a woman with heart and vision. How did you come up with the idea for the bus tours?

Ms. WALTERS: In my life, I had my ups and downs. And I made it out. And from that, I noticed a lot of our students were kind of depressed and upset when they boarded the bus. And I just learned to speak to them, I learned their names. And I started with a young lady by the name of Zene Seales(ph) who is now 19 and in college. And she had a single mom. And I just took the time to invest the time in her. And from that, it just kind of spun out. It was 17 years ago. And now, as a result of it, two and a half years ago, Godparents Youth Organization was formed.

CROSSLEY: Now, how much money did you have to put together and how many kids initially?

Ms. WALTERS: My first cross-country trip was in my minivan, and I have five youth and I spent $7,000 and we were gone for 30 days. And I purchased the van because the rent-a-car was too expensive. And now, as a result, we have seven youth going off to college. And it's just growing.

CROSSLEY: Let me just back up one - and get one thing clear. You spent $7,000? Did you borrow it from your own personal account?

Ms. WALTERS: Oh, from day one I've always used my money. As of a year and a half ago, my co-workers joined in with me and they believed in what I was doing, and they just offered to help.

CROSSLEY: All right. Let me ask you. Where are some of the places you traveled to? And is there a reason that you choose certain sites?

Ms. WALTERS: Well, this summer, we traveled the 13 original colonies. On this last trip, which was 27 days, we stopped in the Grand Canyon, South Carolina, Virginia, Baltimore, New Jersey, Washington, D.C. We stopped in Niagara Falls. We gave backpacks to over 600 kids. Why some of the states? Because there's so much history out there, and history is one of the reasons why we are here and exist today.

CROSSLEY: Anthony, let me turn to you. How did you get to be a part of these trips?

Mr. COLE: I first met Tanya through a friend named Melissa Mack(ph). She told me that her auntie had a group of kids that she was trying to take on a tour and that she thinks that I'll be good for the trip. And I went up there to a meeting. And she had some speakers just telling us about financial aid and college and what we need to do, and it really inspired me and I really liked her vibe. So from there on, I just continued with her.

CROSSLEY: Do you encourage other students to get involved with this organization and why?

Mr. COLE: Yes, because it's a good thing, because you have this (unintelligible) of kids because we give our backpacks to those, you know, who are less fortunate. And if you struggle and if you know you're not that student that get all As and Bs and, you know, this program will help you a lot. Because I was on a wrong path once and Ms. Tanya and the mentors, they came and helped me. And because they helped me, I got accepted to a great college now, and I want to keep on doing that. And I think if other kids could know about it, and other kids that's having problems can do it, then they should join the program, too.

Ms. WALTERS: If you're just joining us, we're talking with L.A. bus driver Tanya Walters, founder and CEO of the Godparents Youth Organization, and Anthony Cole, a former student, about their recent cross-country trip.

Now, Anthony, tell us about one of the most memorable parts of the trip. Any good stories from the road?

Mr. COLE: I really would say when we was in New Orleans, the Ninth Ward. Because you hear about everyone talking about the tragedy that happened in New Orleans, but when you actually go, it's different. You really see what happened. You see where there was no houses and there's only steps. Or you could see what the water level was and it really just make you feel grateful for what you have.

CROSSLEY: Tanya, this is what we really call a busman's holiday. I mean you do the second thing in your day job that you're doing in this wonderful activity with the kids. Tell us about your day job.

Ms. WALTERS: I'm bored. Numerous students that go from one side of the city to the other side of the city. I pick up students that come from all different backgrounds, but I don't use that as a disadvantage. I use it as an avenue and a key. And I use my bus as a love bus. And I tell them, when you meet somebody, you're supposed to speak. And I found through learning their names you build respect. And from there you can open the door. Because if we don't do it in this time today and become the role models that we in the community are talking about, when are we going to do it? And with our program and driving the school bus, I was blessed with the perfect opportunity.

CROSSLEY: Anthony, I understand that you and Tanya are in Dallas, Texas for a very special reason. Can you tell our audience why?

Mr. COLE: Because I have freshmen orientation at Paul Quinn College. She came down here because my mom was not able to make it. And I told her that I was going alone and she just said, no child should go experience college on their own when their first day is so hectic, for me to be lost. So came down here with me. And, you know, she's just by my side right along through my ups and downs, registering for class, helping me get - make sure I get to know the right people so that, while I'm here in college, you know, I get the best experience out of it as possible.

CROSSLEY: Tanya, is this the payoff for you, to see him at college?

Ms. WALTERS: The payoff is to see him in college. The payoff is to see him smile and say I'm going to college; to know that when he finishes in four years, he has choices. To know that he could have been in any other situation but he grabbed on to an opportunity and he ran with it. And as a result, we're sitting down here and he's going through the motions but he's not afraid. I am well pleased.

CROSSLEY: Anthony, Tanya is a powerful example of giving back. And I wonder, now that you're a college student and have benefited from this program, how do you plan to give back?

Mr. COLE: I also plan on working with kids. It's something that I'm inspired by. I plan on giving back by spreading the word of this organization, helping those who's in need, and simply just giving my advice and the knowledge that I gain from them. I'm just going to give everything I have.

CROSSLEY: Anthony Cole, a student in the Godparents Youth Organization and freshman at Paul Quinn College. And Tanya Walters, founder and CEO of the Godparents Youth Organization. They both joined us today from CakeMix Recording in Dallas, Texas. Thank you.

Ms. WALTERS: Thank you for having us.

Mr. COLE: Thank you so much.

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