After just four months on the job, Mount Vernon Express driver Gwen Morris is already known by many student passengers as their “second mom” for her kindness and protective nature.
Freshman Megan Godshalk said Morris is quick to remember students’ names, encourages them with kind comments or fist bumps and prioritizes their safety. To return the kindness, Godshalk and other students who ride the Vex with “Ms. G,” as they call her, started a GoFundMe to surprise Morris with a $250 Visa gift card on her birthday.
“I noticed that she knew everybody’s name and kinda like had a relationship with everyone already, was telling everyone to have a great day, keep up with their studies and just seemed to really care about everyone,” Godshalk said.
Godshalk and her friends saw this positivity in her interactions with everyone, noticing that she isn’t simply polite but genuinely cares about the well-being of every student that steps on the bus. Morris talks about light-hearted gossip with the students, encourages them to stay on top of their studies and makes sure they are getting enough sleep, she said.
For freshmen and sophomores who aren’t quite used to life away from home, Godshalk said students appreciate Morris’s hospitality, even if it’s just for two short bus rides a week.
“She genuinely cares about every student she meets and cares for our safety and happiness,” Godshalk said.
She said one time, someone who wasn’t a student boarded the Vex without a GWorld or identification and was adamantly disobeying Morris’s directions to leave. To ensure the safety of the student passengers in this tense situation, Morris made them all exit the Vex while she got the individual off the bus.
“She took our safety really seriously and had us all get off so she could talk to him and he ended up getting off and then afterward she said ‘No one touches my babies!’ and ‘No one hurts my babies!’ and so I think that she just shows that she really cares about us in all aspects,” Godshalk said.
It was acts of care like this that influenced Godshalk and her friends to start a GoFundMe campaign so they could raise money to surprise Morris with a holiday gift. But after finding out Morris’s birthday was coming up when a student asked about her zodiac sign, they decided to give her what they had already raised.
“At some point, one of us brought up like we should totally do something nice for her like around the holidays,” Godshalk said. “She’s like a second mom to us here and she deserves a nice gift from us.”
Godshalk said when Morris opened her birthday card with the Visa card inside she started crying and was speechless. She even called her family later that day and told them about the gift.
“She was very happy and gave everyone an extra enthusiastic ‘Have a great day!’ once she realized we all had something to do with it,” she said. “And then when I came off the bus later that day she gave us a hug and thanked us again.”
Morris said she was surprised to see a crowd of students gathered outside the Vex when she was at work on her birthday, and when she went to see why, they surprised her with the card and bouquets of flowers.
“I opened it and I started crying,” she said. “It’s true, and I’m not a softie at all. I started crying and it made me feel so special.”
Morris said her favorite part of her job is being able to interact with the students who she knows are mainly from out of town and not used to adult life yet.
“I am always here,” she said. “I can talk to you about anything. It’s mostly the students who don’t have friends or study buddies but I’m here all day, at least for 12 hours a day, and they come by and talk to me. We might have coffee together or we can just talk, I like to talk to them.”
As much as the students appreciate Morris as a “second mom,” she said she enjoys being able to be that figure in their life and provide support in any way she can.
“I don’t have any kids,” she said. “But I do take care and help other people take care of kids, like significant others, my little cousins. I have no brothers and sisters. And it makes me feel good because they come back more than once to talk to me and appreciate me and say thank you.”
Morris said along with making conversation with the students and always being there if they need to talk, she tries to show acts of kindness like lending umbrellas and coats to students who get caught in the rain and giving fistbumps.
“I had done my homework about suicide, a lot of the college students thinking about suicide, so if you show someone you care, maybe I could save a life,” Morris said.
Morris said many students often stay around to talk to her, even after the bus shuttle has arrived or left. She said sometimes they just need to feel heard and express their feelings, so she will be there for them.
“We fistbump because I say ‘Gimme some love and if you ain’t had no love today, Ms. G gonna give you some love,’” she said.
Melanie Del Castillo Sequeira contributed reporting.