The children who walk the intersection of Lexington's Clays Mill Road and Holly Hill Drive every school morning adore their crossing guard Virginia Mayes.
"If it is cold outside, 'Ms. Virginia' zips up their coat," said parent Meghan Shapiro on a Go Fund Me page she set up to help Mayes. "If they are sick, she notices and welcomes them back the next time she sees them. On Fridays, she ushers in their weekend with treats. In short, she cares for our children as if they are her own."
When Virginia Mayes' 36-year-old daughter was recently diagnosed with lung cancer, Shapiro and other people associated with the four schools near the intersection —Clays Mill Elementary, Lexington Catholic High School, Jessie Clark Middle School, and Mary Queen of the Holy Rosary — realized that Mayes would have extra expenses due to the illness.
"Ms. Virginia needs our support," Shapiro said on the Go Fund Me page. "To care for and support her daughter during her treatment, she anticipates missing work both during the day, when she works as a crossing guard, and in the evenings, when she does in home care for the elderly. We can help Ms. Virginia ease the financial burden of these work absences."
"She's an important part of our community," Shapiro told the Herald-Leader. Shapiro said Mayes has brought children that cross her intersection gifts on their birthdays, remembering the date from one year to the next and helped Shapiro's child make the transition to kindergarten.
Jairus Rossi, another parent, said Mayes gives children confidence as they head to their respective schools.
By Tuesday, $2,740 had been raised of a $5,000 goal. Staff at the schools, including Jessie Clark Middle, sent emails to encourage donations to the Go Fund Me page, said associate principal Jimmy Bentine.
Lexington Catholic High Principal Sally Stevens said her school had a "spare change drive" by passing a basket during some lunch periods.
"It makes you cry how much they love her," Stevens said of the bond between Lexington Catholic high school students and Mayes.
High schools don't technically have crossing guards, said Stevens, but Mayes still "speaks to every single one of them every day, she will ask them how their day is going, she will give them little treats at Halloween sometimes. She cares about children. She loves them. She has a dangerous job and I think our students realize that because they see how she can move traffic."
"If you've ever been on Clays Mill in the morning, the ... schools are so close together that it pretty much is a parking lot, but Ms. Virginia makes it happen for all of our parents and students everyday."
Some former students have donated because they remember Mayes from her 20 years in the job.
Mayes told the Herald-Leader that on Monday she traveled to a cancer treatment center in Atlanta with her daughter — "who never smoked a day in her life" but is facing a disease often associated with that habit. She said her daughter was told that the cancer had spread and Mayes is asking for everyone’s prayers.
Mayes said she is grateful for the school staffs, the former and current students and their families who have donated.
"I think the world of them. I love them to death." Mayes said.. "I just love kids. I always have."
School crossing guards are part-time police department employees, said Lexington Police Department spokeswoman Brenna Angel.
There are currently 70 crossing guards assigned to posts across the city. Depending on how long they’ve worked in that position, crossing guards earn $13 to $14 hourly, and generally work about two hours a day during the school year.
"As we have seen with Ms. Mayes and other longtime crossing guards, their daily encounters with children can have a lasting, positive impact in the neighborhoods they serve," said Angel.
Parents say they like that Mayes addresses issues of good behavior with their children, from not taking too many treats when she offers them to not getting too close to the road.
"That's community parenting," said Shapiro. "Another person in the community is helping our kids make good choices. We honestly think she would put her life on the line for our children and that's not being hyperbolic. She really loves them."