Ron Betton came to the United States 38 years ago from his native Guyana to seek a better life for himself. And now he hopes to pass on some of what he has learned to students at Mill Creek Elementary School in Statesboro.
Betton was voted Most Outstanding Crossing Guard in the 2019 Readers Choice Awards. As a paraprofessional/co-teacher at Mill Creek, he not only does morning and afternoon crossing guard duty, but he also works in a first grade classroom, and with the Boys & Girls Clubs at the school. In addition, he mentors two students at the school, fourth- and fifth-graders, along with two students at Bulloch County’s alternative school, Transitions Learning Center.
Working in the education field was not something Betton aspired to. When he came to the U.S., he lived in Brooklyn, New York, eventually attending the City University of New York, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Finance. After graduation, he worked in the banking industry until the Black Friday crash of 1988.
“I had to find another career,” he said, recalling that he held several jobs in the interim. He eventually went to work at Home Depot, and was promoted within six months to supervisor at the front desk, and then to refund desk manager. He was soon asked to open a store in New Jersey, and later he opened more stores in Florida. He worked for Home Depot for 12 years total.
Betton said his wife suggested that they take the test to work in law enforcement and, after the exam, they were both hired. He did that for another 12 years, and retired from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office in 2015.
Prior to his retirement, he and his wife traveled to Virginia to visit his sister, and stopped over in Statesboro to visit his wife’s friend.
“I had never heard of Statesboro,” he said, smiling. The couple wound up staying with the friend again on their way home.
Life has a funny way of working things out, and Betton said that all the years he lived in Florida he had never been able to purchase property. But when his wife’s friend had land to sell in Bulloch County, he was able to purchase it.
“I liked the area, but my wife is a city girl. And I didn’t know if she would want to live out here,” he said.
The couple eventually built their house on the property, and moved in after his retirement.
“It’s so nice and quiet, to get away from all the noise and traffic of the city,” he said.
Betton and his wife, Debra, will celebrate their 10th anniversary this August. He says his wife is “wonderful.”
“She is my rock,” he says, smiling.
The couple has, along with Betton’s first wife, a total of five children, 13 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. They also have a 3-year-old granddaughter living with them.
“She is smart, she is so smart. She is such a joy to be around,” he said.
To relax, Betton says he enjoys working in his yard, watching sports, and bowling. He especially enjoys watching basketball and football, and is a major fan of the New York Giants, Mets and Knicks.
“I’m a New Yorker,” he says with a shrug and a grin.
Betton is trying to get into college football, and has adopted both the Georgia Southern University Eagles and the University of Georgia Bulldogs as “his” teams.
“There are so many teams, it’s hard to keep up,” he said, adding that he usually waits until the playoffs to get really involved.
Betton stayed retired for about a year and a half, but decided it was time to do something different. He had a love for children, and began substitute teaching. It was during his subbing that he noticed there is a need for male role models for young children in the area.
“Kids this age, they really need someone to help them be who you think they should be or who they want to be; to help them, to talk to them, to try to give them some of your experience,” he said.
Eventually, he was hired as a paraprofessional at Mill Creek, and he has been in that position two years.
Betton says he enjoys talking to the children and helping them to learn the things they need to do to in life to be successful. He calls himself a soldier of the cross, and says we have a responsibility to the children in our community.
“We are here for a purpose,” he said. “The purpose is to take care of all of our kids. I talk to the boys about growing up to be a man. There’s so much we have lost as a society with young men that we don’t do anymore, that I still do, like opening doors, letting females go first. Teach them those little attitudes that you should have.”
He loves being around the children and seeing how he can make them feel wanted and happy, he said.
“This is their safe place, and a lot of them will open up and talk to you. I try to give them advice, and help them,” he said.
Betton says he has learned much from the students he has worked with at Mill Creek.
“They are so smart, so perceptive,” he said. “They have taught me to be more humble, because they need a lot of nurturing and help, they really do. They have taught me to be myself, to try to make them happy and to just be happy.”
The children who come to school with heavy burdens are the ones who touch him the most.
“They have been through so much and it hurts me to hear their stories. I try to show them love. Jesus said, ‘Suffer the children. Let them come to me.’ I feel like, being in school, among these kids, they need leadership. They need someone to be their shepherd and lead them in the right direction,” he said.
Betton’s co-workers describe him as someone who has a servant’s heart, and he says he tries to emulate that for his students.
“I always think you can do something. You can be somebody. Don’t be afraid to try different things. Be a leader, don’t be a follower,” he said.
When asked about being “most outstanding,” Betton just smiles and pauses.
“I’m just here to help the kids. That’s what I do,” he said. “I tell them all the time, I’m here for you guys. That’s why I’m here. I could be retired and just go about my business. But I see a need.”