Sometimes the greatest impact can come from the most unlikely sources. For 19-year-old Ty Coppola — who has Down syndrome — that source was Scott Reynolds, the Fairport, New York bus driver who took him and 11 other students with special needs to school each day.
"My son has a sense for people he can trust, and it tends to be based on how they react to him," Michael Coppola, Ty's father, told TODAY.com. "Are they going to look him in the eye? Are they going to say hello?"
"Scott, from day one, gave Ty the sense that he was accepting ... They would do a fist bump getting on the bus."
For 10 years, Ty started each school day with that fist bump — an invaluable gesture, since consistency plays an enormous role in managing developmental disabilities. "It brought us such relief to know he would at least start the day on the right foot," Michael said.
Their interactions were brief, but meaningful. "Scott would remember things," Michael said. "We have family upstate who have a chocolate lab named Cocoa. If Scott knew we were going there for a visit, he would ask about the dog by name.
"He would crack jokes and make Ty laugh. Ty has limited verbal capabilities, but he has the same feelings and understandings as any other kid. Not many people get that.
"Scott gets it."
When the Coppolas heard that Reynolds would retire in February 2016 after 35 years as a driver, they asked the Department of Transportation if they could help orchestrate a sendoff. "We knew we weren't alone in our appreciation, and we wanted Scott to know that," said Michael.
So after Reynolds finished his morning route on Feb. 11, the school called him back for an 'important meeting' ... that turned out to be a surprise party. Ten fellow drivers along with many grateful parents gathered to pay their respects.
Michael read aloud from a heartfelt letter that he and his wife, Cheryl, had written.
"It is not always the people with a big title or position of influence that make a difference in the lives of kids with disabilities," the letter said. "It is often those that provide direct care for them and spend time with them every day that make the biggest difference."
"People like Scott are extraordinary in our eyes — they care even though it is not their personal 'mission' ... Today we recognize a great man for making a difference in the lives of people every single day, simply with the kindness of his heart."
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Peter Lawrence, Fairport Central School District's director of transportation, videotaped the exchange to show new bus drivers during training the potential impact of their work.
"Scott is a fine example of what we expect of our school bus drivers, who transport our most precious cargo to and from school each day, ready to learn," Lawrence told TODAY.com.
Michael agreed. "You're not 'just' driving a bus," he said. "What you do really does make a difference."