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Tuesday, Sep 16, 2014
Education

Crossing guard leader ‘Mr. Jimmy’ keeps parents, kids safe and smiling

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Published:   |   Updated: August 25, 2014 at 11:58 AM

Jimmy Brown rises every morning at 6, says a prayer and heads to work.

He stops at Lopez Elementary School first, then moves around to check on his team stationed at Seffner, Yates and Limona elementary schools. A crossing guard supervisor for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, his job is to make sure everything is going smoothly and safely for the nine guards in his charge.

But more often than not, he says, he picks up a little red stop sign himself. Just because.

“I love putting this vest on and putting this whistle in my mouth,” said Mr. Jimmy, as the students and his co-workers call him.

Brown has been back in his neon yellow gear since Tuesday, helping train new guards during the first few days of school.

From 7:10 to 8:25 a.m.

Wednesday, he stood at Cactus and Kings Way roads near Seffner Elementary, waving and smiling at pedestrians and passing cars.

“Hey, you have a good day, young man!” he shouted. “Have a good day now!”

Several drivers honked their horns and waved at him as they drove by.

“I love this job,” said Brown, 56. “I love everything about it.”

The sheriff’s office is “desperate” to fill 13 crossing guard positions within Tampa’s city limits, said Danny Fassett, a community service officer and Brown’s supervisor. Crossing guards work two hours a day on weekdays, split between a morning and afternoon shift.

Being a crossing guard sometimes is a “thankless job,” Fassett said. The sheriff’s office employs about 270 crossing guards who are out every day, sometimes in brutal weather, dodging cars and helping students and their parents get safely across the street.

The agency is looking for more crossing guards like Brown, who always has a smile on his face.

“He’s a great guy,” Fassett said.

Brown is originally from West Palm Beach, where he worked as a Department of Corrections officer before taking a job as a truck driver and mechanic. He retired in 2000, and several years later got a job as a crossing guard.

He and his wife moved to Tampa a few years ago to be closer to their five children and eight grandchildren. After about seven months, he missed being a crossing guard so much he decided to apply with the sheriff’s office.

“That’s the best thing they ever did and the best thing I ever did,” he said about getting hired.

Brown has worked at that Seffner corner across from the North Brandon Family YMCA for three years, helping about 30 children cross in the morning and about 50 in the afternoon. Last year, he was moved up to a supervisor position.

“You wouldn’t believe the phone calls we got when he was promoted,” Fassett said.

When people found out Brown was leaving that post, they were upset, he said. But they were happy for him when they understood he was being promoted and would still be in the area every day, moving between the four schools.

“They definitely love him beyond belief,” Fassett said.

Donna Badji, who has two children at Seffner Elementary, was watching Brown work Wednesday morning as she trained to take over the post.

“He brightens up the day for people,” Badji said. “You can’t miss him.”

Even if it’s cold or raining, Mr. Jimmy is there at the crosswalk smiling and waving, she said.

A good attitude is an important part of the job, Brown said.

A crossing guard needs to have a good relationship with the kids and the parents.

“That will make your day just to see how much that parent trusts you,” he said.

Brown first became a crossing guard when he grew tired of seeing students crossing at dangerous intersections in South Florida, he said.

“I wanted to make a difference,” Brown said. “I want to help these kids get to school safe and get back home safe.”

After he finishes his morning shift, Brown drives over to his barbecue stand on U.S. 92 near Parsons Avenue. He makes lunch, then heads back to his schools by 1 p.m. to get ready for when the students are released for the day. After the afternoon shift, he picks up two of his grandchildren from day care and goes back to his business.

His family knows he loves his work as a crossing guard, Brown said. His youngest daughter likes to tease him about how loud he is.

“Sometimes they’ll ride by (my spot) just so I can wave at them,” Brown said.

He has collected a “briefcase full” of handmade cards and letters from his students over the years and keeps a bundle of them with him in his car. In 2012, a family gave him a Christmas ornament of a bear dressed like a crossing guard with the name “Mr. Jimmy” written on it.

For Brown, his work is about being able to make someone’s day safer and happier. He works hard to make his students and their parents smile.

“Seeing that smile on their face, that’s my joy,” Brown said. “I go home happy then.”

To apply to be a crossing guard, go to the sheriff’s office website at www.hcso.tampa.fl.us and click on “Careers.”

 

Ebehrman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7691

Twitter: @LizBehrmanTBO

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