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Veteran school bus driver has brought joy to children and the community for decades

DANIEL ESTRIN, HOST:

We recently asked you, our audience, to share the stories of people who brighten the day and enrich the lives of those in their communities. I think we all deserve a break from the daily news. So you wrote in, and today we want you to know about...

FIONNUALA AND CEILIDH CLIMER: Mr. Alvin.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

That is Fionnuala and Ceilidh Climer. They're 5 years old, and they're twins from Skokie, Ill.

ESTRIN: Now, Mr. Alvin is Alvin Carter. He drives their school bus and is a custodian at Elizabeth Meyer School. Fionnuala says this is how he greets them every morning.

FIONNUALA CLIMER: Hello, No. 1 princess. Hello, No. 2 princess.

ESTRIN: And she says on the days that you wear a dress...

FIONNUALA: He says, can I borrow your dress? And I say, no, and I start laughing.

CHANG: Siobahn Climer, the twins' mom, says she knew about Mr. Alvin even before she met him.

SIOBAHN CLIMER: I heard about him from our neighbors, whose kids were in middle school and high school. They're like, oh, when you go to kindergarten, you're going to get Mr. Alvin.

CHANG: Mr. Alvin has been driving the school bus for 28 years for the same school and always for the kindergarteners.

ALVIN CARTER: I love them.

ESTRIN: Mr. Alvin has eight children of his own. They're adults now, but he says the kids on his bus remind him of when they were young. Over the years, Mr. Alvin has tried to retire, and his children tell him it's time, but he says he just can't.

CARTER: I remember the faces I see in the morning. I'm like, oh, I can't do this. I got to be there.

CHANG: He has got to be there, even at lunchtime.

CARTER: I'm sitting in the lunch room with them, and it's like, I can't leave. I can't even leave to go eat lunch because we always have conversation, conversation, conversation, conversation.

CHANG: Those conversations, those relationships, everything got put on hold when school closed during the pandemic. Mr. Alvin says a few months in, he heard that kids and parents were worried about him, so he revved up the empty school bus, and he drove it around to kids' houses.

CARTER: I stop, and I honk, and I stand at the window to let them see that I'm OK. There's a little one in the bus right now that she used to stand by the window with her older brother and sister just to wave at me.

ESTRIN: In addition to taking them to and from school, Mr. Alvin hopes to motivate each student on his bus.

CARTER: Because I would like them to be successful in life. So if it starts at kindergarten, then it might continue.

ESTRIN: While he doesn't claim any credit, some of his former students are now doctors, nurses and engineers. Mr. Alvin still honks at them when he sees them and loves to run into them. But he says, sometimes it's just too much.

CARTER: Sometimes I got to try and, like, hide because I run into so many of them in Target. I'm like, oh, boy. Like, you try to hide, but they still come find you. I don't know how, but they know, oh, there's Mr. Alvin over there.

CHANG: Try as he might, he just cannot hide. And, really, you know, little stops him from chatting, as Ceilidh has witnessed.

CEILIDH CLIMER: He talks to people even if it's snowstorm or rainstorm. He is very special.

CHANG: And if you want to tell us about someone special in your community, find us on Twitter at @npratc. There's a pinned tweet right at the top.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WHO SONG, "MAGIC BUS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.