The legend of “Miss Betty” was first spread by the needy youngsters she helped.
Teachers at Hamilton’s Crawford Woods Elementary began seeing a similar story three years ago from many of their students.
It went like this: A young student from a needy family — always from the Sky Meadows Mobile Home Park — would turn in a homework assignment having done markedly better than their previous work.
Their dramatic progress drew their teacher’s praise. But when the improvement continued for even more students, the teachers’s started asking questions about how once struggling English As A Second Language (ESL) students were mastering new skills more quickly.
Dozens of students in different grades answered the same way by telling teachers of place in their trailer park neighborhood — Miss Betty’s Club — they went to after school.
It was a converted trailer — adorned on its front an American flag and Christian cross — and inside, they said, and they described how they could concentrate on their homework, read from a mini-library, play educational games and practice their English with other ESL students.
Snacks and occasional light dinners were provided. When the weather allowed, there were swings and other outdoor play equipment in the trailer’s yard.
Prayers of grace before meals included children invited to speak in English about what they were grateful for.
And like the loving hugs that abounded there, all these things came freely.
All, the students would tell teachers, because of this mysterious “Miss Betty.”
And now the rest of world knows Miss Betty as Betty Taylor, Hamilton’s Citizen of the Year after Friday night’s annual awards gala by the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce.
Unlike most of the award’s past winners, Taylor is not a captain of industry, business executive, prominent politician or a high-profile community volunteer.
Instead Taylor is a retired Miami University non-teaching employee and former children’s pastor who lives modestly in the same trailer park as the youngsters she helps.
The 66-year-old grandmother has whipped cancer twice, but you’d never know by the pace she keeps.
Rather than look for someone else to help the neighborhood kids she — along with her ever-present and helping husband John — bought an extra trailer and lot near their trailer home and converted it into an after-school haven of learning, friendship and fellowship.
Taylor was shocked last month when a chamber official called, telling her she won one of Hamilton’s most prestigious honors.
The spotlight is alien to her because she is as modest as she is giving.
“We do it because it needs to be done. And I do it for God and God’s not finished with me yet,” she said.
Teachers solve the mystery of Miss Betty
“Who’s this Miss Betty?” Crawford Woods teacher Kristina Hamester would ask her students last school year.
“She’s a lady who lives by me and helps me with my homework,” they would answer, recalls Hamester, who teaches ESL.
Her and other teachers’ curiosity soon piqued, and last year the school’s ESL teachers decided, said Hamester, that since Miss Betty “helps our ESL students so much that we need to meet her.”
A handful of teachers drove out to the Taylors’ extra trailer and were amazed.
“What we saw were 30-plus students gathered all around in this trailer, sitting with one another, doing their homework, asking each other questions, really working hard to get their homework done. There were school desks, chalk boards and lots of books. Just a perfect little classroom,” recalls Hamester.
“It is a safe haven for students and their parents to come by and play, pick up school supplies or food. She is completely trusted by the trailer park community,” said Hamester, who later nominated Taylor for the Citizen Of The Year award.
“I thought she deserved it but it seemed like a long shot. I looked at the chamber website (past award winners) and there were a lot of politically involved people,” said Kristina.
Tony Orr, superintendent of Hamilton Schools, is pleased the world will now know of Taylor’s generosity.
“Betty Taylor is the quiet hero in the Crawford Woods Elementary neighborhood,” said Orr.
“She shared with me that she sees 15-20 children per day, but sometimes up to 30. At Christmas she hosted 58 of our children! I commend Betty and applaud her efforts to make a positive difference in the lives of our children,” he said.
“Her efforts are measured in not only the size of her heart for Hamilton’s students, but the love and kindness they give in return. We all need to be more like Betty, a quiet hero, a teacher,” said Orr.
The Citizen Of The Year award comes with $1,000 donation to a charity of Taylor’s choice and after talking that over with her youngsters, they decided it should go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to fight childhood cancer. Last year a little girl they all knew died of cancer and they wanted to honor her memory.
Friday evening before a crowd of 350 at the prestigious annual chamber event, Taylor accepted her award, saying “this is truly an honor.”
“I don’t feel worthy. I’m just doing what God wants me to do. He has opened many doors for us and we walk through them with his help of course,” she said.
Taylor’s legacy, said Hamester, goes far beyond winning an award.
She is “leaving a lasting impact on the character of students, their families and the teachers that get to work with her.”
The kids, said Hamester, “leave Miss Betty’s Club with life skills that will help them be successful their entire lives and they might do something similar when they are older.”
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HOW TO HELP
If you’d like to help Betty Taylor and the children she tutors and entertains, school supplies and non-perishable foods are always welcomed.
These both can be dropped off during school hours — 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. — until May 26 at Crawford Woods Elementary, 2200 Hensley Ave. in Hamilton and when the school re-opens Aug. 10 from summer break.
Clothing for children under Taylor’s supervision may be donated in her name at The Caring Closet, 6 South D St. in Hamilton.