If you slow down inside two Murfreesboro school zones — as you should anyway — you may just have an enjoyable experience while you wait, thanks to always upbeat crossing guard Meagan Lester.
While speaking to Lester, one cannot help but notice her determined decision to keep a positive attitude no matter what life throws her way.
Lester, who once was homeless, keeps marching on with a smile on her face and a can-do attitude she shares with others as she keeps students and traffic moving safely.
Lester, who lives near La Vergne, said she has worked as a crossing guard at Northfield and Black Fox Elementary schools since the beginning of this school year. She makes a point of smiling and waving at bus drivers, motorists and children, and loves cutting up with them with words and elaborate waves and traffic gestures.
She does this work despite suffering from a torn meniscus and had work done on her left knee the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, forcing her to take time off. She said she missed the school children. Lester has become so popular, that during her brief absence, several parents missed her too, and contacted the Murfreesboro Post to inquire about her.
The procedure in November was not her first issue with her knees. Many of the problems are caused by tissue growing behind her knee caps, as well as arthritis. She has the tissue scraped every couple of years. Also, her right ACL is currently torn.
“I refuse to let any of that slow me down,” she said.
Lester said her police-issued boots are heavy and sometimes bother her knees. When her knees hurt, she takes Ibuprofen or Goody’s Powder and gets on with her job.
“When I get ready to go back to work, I remember I have those kids there used to seeing me; they don’t like it when I’m not there,” she said.
Her many fans include a boy who rides his bicycle to Black Fox, she said. Also, the father of a student at Northfield asked where she was when she was missing for two days (she had a different assignment at the time). He told Lester that it is an issue when his daughter is having a bad day and is looking for her and she is not in the school zone.
“Children need consistency in their lives,” Lester said. “They need positivity surrounding them as well,” especially during the pandemic. “If I can’t get a smile from them — what good am I doing when they already have such negativity around them.”
She asks children the “million or trillion dollar” question: Was today a good day?
“I wrote my own job description – to make them happy, show them it’s okay to smile and laugh even through these times,” she said.
Overcoming many obstacles
Lester is no stranger to hard times.
She said she married about a year and a half ago. Between them, she and her husband have five children: one who is almost 21; two 15-year-olds who turn 16 this month; a 12-year-old; and a 4-year-old. Two of the children live at home with them, including a daughter who has an autoimmune disease and is homeschooled to protect her from COVID-19.
In addition to working as a crossing guard at two schools and homeschooling her daughter, Lester is a full-time college student and works two other jobs — providing valet trash service at an apartment complex and working in the gift shop of a Nashville entertainment company that operates haunted houses and other seasonal experiences. COVID-19 has slowed the latter business down some, she said.
Her resumé is yet more diverse than those jobs.
Just before the pandemic hit, she said, she worked at a state human services job in Nashville; the building was destroyed by the Nashville tornado in March. Then, COVID-19 hit. Since then, it has been even more difficult making ends meet, and paying rent has been difficult since November, she said.
“We don’t let that bother us,” Lester said. “We stay positive and keep pushing and do what we have to do to make sure things stay taken care of.”
Also, Lester said she worked in Wilson County in bail bonding and as a bounty hunter, which was a bit scary at times. She said knew people who did that work and she just woke up one day and decided to be a bounty hunter.
Lester said she worked the third shift and took her daughter to the office at night to sit and play games and sing together when things were slow. The jail was across the street.
The job did not pay well – she got only 10 percent of every bond she wrote, she said. She also said she quit after one experience while bounty hunting. While patting someone down, she was nearly jabbed by a needle. She was wearing special-made gloves designed to prevent needles from pricking hands, but the experience made her life flash before her eyes. She said she was not married at that point and was terrified what would happen to her daughter if something happened to her. That was when she went to work in human services.
Lester said that she always wanted to be a police officer but cannot because of her knee problems and her slight physical stature – she cannot take someone down. That was one attraction of working as a crossing guard after she saw a Facebook ad for the position.
Now a full house
That don’t-quit attitude has served her well in life.
Lester said she and her husband make the time for their children around their jobs, even “if it takes time away from our sleep, fine.” Her mother came and stayed with her during her surgery and has been a big help.
Lester said she is blessed. There have been times she did not have a penny to her name; she once lived underneath an underpass on Thompson Lane. No matter how difficult life is, there is always someone going through worse, she said.
“I’ve got food and water and heat for my kids,” she said.
The family has a full house with 23 animals, including chickens, a parrot, a hermit crab, a guinea pig, two cats and two dogs.
Lester said she grew up in a house where she was allegedly abused every day.
“I move forward from that,” she said. “I don’t allow my children to be abused. I don’t use the word stepchildren.” Instead, she said, she calls her husband’s biological children her “bonus children.”
She said she spent years in therapy to deal with PTSD and anxiety as a result of her childhood.
“I don’t let that put a hold on my life,” she said. “I don’t live in the past.”
Nor did she let being homeless stop her. She said she ended up in Portland, Tenn., one day in 2013 without recalling how she got there. She lived in someone’s shed out back and kept waiting to be discovered and killed. It just came to her that she needed to get up off her “rear end” and do something. She called a friend in Murfreesboro, who picked her up and gave her a place to stay while she got back on her feet.
Now, Lester said she and her daughter knit hats and scarves for homeless people and residents at domestic violence shelters and take them “goodies” as well. Her daughter, working with a friend, have a GoFundMe page called “Family Feeders” to support their charitable work that includes giving pet food to homeless people with pets.
Lester said that if there is one thing people should know about her is that she is appreciative.
“I can’t thank every one of the (school bus) drivers, the parents, the truck drivers who honk their horns – I love it,” she said. “The appreciation of them being so cautious, smiling and waving back makes me happy. I want to thank every single person who comes through those areas (school zones).”