Metro worker lends helping hand - New York News

Metro worker lends helping hand

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OJ Richardson OJ Richardson
WASHINGTON -

Getting around the Metro system is no easy task. There are the fares, the maps and the trains. Now imagine trying to navigate all that as young person with a disability. It's a lot to figure out. But one Metro employee is lending a helping hand to make it easier.

On a Friday afternoon, we find OJ Richardson at the turnstiles, where a young boy is having trouble with his farecard.

"Yeah, you good, you good," he tells a boy after giving him some help. "Pick it up and walk through," he instructs him reassuringly.

This is what Richardson does. Over nearly 43 years with Metro, the station manager at the Stadium-Armory Metro rail station has helped a lot of people.

"I'm jumping out there to help them whether they ask me or not," he said.

But he has a special place in his heart for students from St. Coletta of Greater Washington in Southeast D.C.

"It's very comforting to know that people like OJ are around," said Natalie Gibson, the vocational coordinator for St. Coletta.

The school is across the street from the Stadium-Armory station. It serves students of all ages with a wide range of disabilities, autism and some with physical challenges too. Richardson first noticed them coming into the station a few years ago. They are accompanied by teachers who show them how to read maps and signs, but there are times when the groups are large.

"I said I'm going to go out and help them," Richardson remembered.

Learning to ride Metro is part of the school's curriculum. So when Richardson sees the students come in, he's always ready.

"If he sees us looking for a certain place on the map we get confused on finding and getting to, he comes over and shows us," said Jasmine Anderson, a 22-year-old student who is about to graduate.

It's not just about teaching them to ride trains, but about learning independence. Anderson has learned to take the bus from home, board the train and get to school. It took her nearly two years to learn to navigate the system, but now "I could get on the train by myself without any help."

The students use Metro to get to places like the grocery store, library and even work. Rickey Thomas-Byars is still getting to know his way around. The 18-year-old uses a wheelchair and has difficulty speaking, but is proud of what he can already do.

"I can ride the train," he said.

One day he said he wants "get my own place and call my own shots."

Metro doesn't pay Richardson any extra for this. He does it because that is what his parents taught him.

"My mother and father instilled in us the right way to go," he said.

Over time, he has bonded with the students. In that way, he's richly rewarded.

"It makes me feel good,” said Richardson. “A few of them know me real well. They shake my hand. They give me a hug when I first see them because I'm right there helping them every day I come out here."

On this afternoon, Thomas-Byars says "thank you," gives Richardson a high-five and a handshake before driving his wheelchair away. In a way, Richardson is giving them both directions to navigate Metro and life.

"He's a cool dude," said Anderson with a wide smile.

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