Herman Cruse has a tremendous passion for helping young people.
Cruse, a school bus driver for Middle Township Public Schools located on the southern tip of the New Jersey peninsula, noticed that some students were really struggling with reading. He decided to spend a few hours a week reading to the children and mentoring them.
“I am blessed with five beautiful children. I am blessed to impart my parental skills to the students whom I drive. Because I drive a school bus, I can be a mentor and a role model to the children in the district where I drive my bus,” said Cruse. “When I am reading to the children, I feel a tremendous sense of inspiration and a positive energy. I am sharing the joy of reading to the kids.”
He said he knows that being a school bus driver is far more than simply driving a vehicle around town. And he understands that he is the first person associated with their school who greets them in the morning and the last one to bid them farewell late in the afternoon. This is a relationship that he takes seriously, and Cruse has earned the trust of the families of the young people on his bus.
Cruse lives in Egg Harbor City, New Jersey and commutes about 40 miles each way to Middle Township. He has been a driver for the district since 2013 and has looked for ways to help others between his morning and afternoon bus runs.
One day, Cruse found that a young student on his bus was having difficulties reading. He spoke to the boy’s teacher about the situation. Cruse realized he had time between bus runs and that spending it with the boy would be a productive use of this time.
“I thought it would be advantageous if I would read with the children,” he said. “So, I volunteered to read with the student. As I was reading with him, lights turned on and I could see he had a hunger to read and learn about what was in the books. That experience exploded and became contagious as more students want to read with me.”
Cruse does not have advanced academic degrees or training as an educator. But he knows how to relate well to children.
“I work to address the hunger within the kids. I try to find books that the children are interested in reading,” he commented. “Some of the students enjoy reading a book about children who like lunch. So, I would we would read together about lunchtime. We would read books about food and books about vacations. We would read books about Christmas. I would look for various books the children wanted to read. I became a father figure to the children. I showed that I cared about them.”
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Life experience and raising five children has given Cruse the knowledge and insight to be a great mentor to younger children. He has been reading to children in grades Kindergarten through second. “I may not have as much formal education, but I have experience with children. Sometimes [it] is more than reading, it is about having a conversation with the children,” he shared.
And Cruse has never considered driving a school bus a job but instead a calling and a passion. Many young people dream about being a firefighter, police office, doctor, lawyer or professional athlete. But Cruse really wanted to drive a bus. “When I was a young child, I was asked what I wanted to do in life. I said I wanted to be a bus driver,” he recalled. “It was in my heart to be a bus driver.”
Cruse has also been a lifelong reader.
“I have always loved reading,” he said. “Ever since I was a child, I loved to read. I would read encyclopedias and maps. I read many books when I was younger.”
The volunteer work Cruse has been doing was recently recognized by the Middle Township community. Cruse received a Middle Township Matters Award during a December Township committee meeting. This award is to “recognize residents for their wide variety of endeavors toward building a better Middle Township,” Mayor Tim Donohue said in a statement. “Mr. Herman exemplifies the community spirit that makes Middle Township such a special place to live and work. The simple act of giving his time to read with and listen to students makes a huge difference in the lives of these children. We commend Mr. Herman for spreading compassion and we are proud to present him with the Middle Matters Award.”
Middle Township has a strong tradition of volunteering. Many of the people who work in transportation belong to the Sunshine Club, a local charitable organization that has been around for 30 years. This includes drivers who raise money within the department to send flowers, cards and other forms of encouragement to drivers and aids who are facing illnesses, hospitalization or the loss of a loved one. They also organize the annual Christmas luncheon and end of the year barbecue. Many of the bus drivers and people in Middle Township Schools are also involved in other volunteer activities in the community such as scouting.
Dawn DeVico, transportation coordinator for Middle Township Public Schools, said she has been very impressed with Herman and other dedicated volunteers.
“People in our department love to help others. When someone is in the hospital, members of the Sunshine Club will set up food chains to help their family members,” she added. Most of our members eat lunch together and there is a lot of camaraderie in the department.”