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One Of The Best

Steve Rosko

WATERBURY – Steve Rosko, All-Star’s director of maintenance, has been named a 2017 Garage Star. He was selected by School Transportation News and featured in the magazine’s latest issue. Here’s what the magazine wrote:

Steve Rosko began his career as an entry-level mechanic in 1985 at Wamogo Regional High School in Litchfield, Connecticut. Rising through the ranks in the school bus garage to the office and gaining experience and additional training. Rosko eventually became the director of maintenance for All-Star Transportation.

“Steve embraced the challenge,” said Leslie Sheldon, the company’s operation manager.

With a multitude of experience in a variety of positions, Rosko knows the ins and outs of school bus maintenance and all its technical aspects. He oversees a staff of 30 technicians who service more than 900 vehicles at three maintenance facilities throughout western Connecticut. Sheldon said Rosko rarely spends full days in his office since he’s always on the floor talking to his team as well as providing hands-on technical training. Everything for Steve happens in the garage.

“I’d be the first to help (my team) understand how to execute a successful job so they themselves can step into my position and do my job,” he explained while likening his technicians to “family.”

Rosko isn’t one to call in sick or take any days off either, but instead Sheldon said he always ensures the successful completion of any job. With automotive, heavy-duty and school bus certifications from ASE, he helped All-Star Transportation achieve one of the best maintenance records in Connecticut as well as led the maintenance staff to obtaining the ASE Blue Shield of Excellence for its fleet of gasoline, diesel and propane school buses.

You can read the article on the School Transportation News website here.

Achieving Perfection Over 13 Years

Some folks fear the number 13, but for Marilyn Maynard it is perfection. Over the past 13 years, she has not missed a day driving her school bus for All-Star Transportation.

“It never occurred to me not to work. I credit that to my upbringing,” she says. “If you don’t work, you don’t eat. I have always had that attitude.

“Plus,” she says with a smile, “I don’t like others driving my bus.”

Maynard has been driving for All-Star for 18 years, beginning in Torrington with Laidlaw, which All-Star acquired in 2004. She now drives bus 26 out of the Burlington terminal, serving Region 10 schools in Harwinton and Burlington.

Maynard is a native of St. Kitts, a popular vacation destination in the Caribbean. She acquired permanent residency status in the U.S. in 1993 through her father, a citizen of the U.S Virgin Islands, and emigrated to the U.S. with her son in 1998. Maynard relocated to Torrington in 1999, along with her mother and one sibling, and in 2004 she became a U.S. citizen.

She laughs when asked why she would leave an island paradise for the U.S., saying that people ask her that question again and again.
“I like the different temperatures throughout the year, and there are better job opportunities here,” she says.

One of her earliest recollections upon arriving in Connecticut was learning to drive on the right side of the road. In St. Kitts, vehicles travel on the left side of the road. She learned to drive the American way by practicing on East Main Street in Torrington, a multi-lane highway that climbs a steep hill and is lined with businesses and houses.

“It was intimidating,” she recalls.

Maynard’s first job in Torrington was working at a CVS pharmacy, adding that she had never thought of becoming a school bus driver. But she saw job ads for drivers in Torrington and decided to give it a shot. Now, she can’t imagine doing anything else.

“I’m going to drive until I can’t drive anymore,” she says. “The reason is because of the company I work for. I like the people in management and all the people I work with. Everyone is nice. Plus we get multiple breaks during the school year, which gives us time to regroup and take a breath from all the stress. It’s great.”

As to her success as a driver, she has a simple philosophy – everyone follows the rules.

“You can’t let the kids take over,” she says.

Lending A Helping Hand

BROOKFIELD – Working with children, their parents or caregivers is what’s expected of those who drive a school bus. Getting to know to know the families they transport and building relationships with them also comes naturally for All-Star Transportation employees.

So, it’s no surprise that when she’s not busy working as the manager at All-Star’s terminal in Brookfield that Debbie Jones volunteers at YoungLives of Danbury, a ministry for pregnant and parenting teenagers. The organization provides emotional support and services, such as life-skills education.

“It’s a great group, and they provide a lot of support,” Jones says. “A lot of these girls don’t get a lot of support at home.”

Jones first got involved with the organization when her then-15-year-old daughter, Brittany, was pregnant. One of Brittany’s friends had invited her to a YoungLives meeting.

“It was a place for her to go where she could talk to girls her own age in the same situation with peer bonding and mentors for support,” Jones says. “They also helped develop life skills and coping skills necessary for a teenage mom. It was a place where she was comfortable.

“YoungLives provides support in a teenage mom’s life when she is scared and very vulnerable,” she adds.

Now 21 and a driver for All-Star, Brittany has remained connected with the group. She’s a junior leader, making her a leader in training. She helps the group’s senior leaders build relationships with young mothers, and she tends to paperwork.

Four years ago, YoungLives asked Jones to get involved, and now she helps provide childcare while the young mothers hold meetings three times a month during the school year and twice a month during the summer. Currently, 15 teen moms are involved in the group, according to Allie Lasky, coordinator for the YoungLives Danbury region.

“Debbie plays a really important role,” Lasky says. “Without her, we would not be able to do what we do with the girls. Others also help from time to time, but she comes every time.”

“I enjoy the time with the babies, as well as helping other teenage moms,” Jones explains. “I can be there to support and encourage them. It is a way that I can give back for the support that they provided my daughter.”

In addition to childcare, Jones also volunteers her time to drive the young mothers to summer camp in upstate New York, something she has done for the past few years. This year, when the group lost its transportation, Jones took action. She reached out to Leslie Sheldon, All-Star’s operations manager, to inquire about renting a bus. Instead of billing the organization, Sheldon decided to donate a bus free of charge because Jones had already agreed to donate her time to drive.

So, this past Saturday, Jones made the four-hour round trip to and from the camp at Lake Champion in Glen Spey, NY. And she will make another trip later this summer. The camp is critical to the YoungLives program because it provides teen moms, their babies and their mentors with a few days of fun, allowing them to escape their daily routines and challenges.

“I’m always thanking her,” Lasky says of Jones. “Especially this year, when we found out we were losing our transportation. She took the initiative and also donated her time. It means a lot to us.”

Putting Out Fires At Work And Home

WATERBURY – When Ed Costa says he spends most days putting out fires, he means that both figuratively and literally. As the manager of All-Star Transportation’s Waterbury location, it’s his job to resolve issues that erupt on a daily basis. And as the deputy fire chief for the Town of Wolcott, he’s frequently called upon to battle real-life fires.

“My background in emergency services helps me stay calm when there are challenging things going on,” says Costa, who manages a staff of more than 100 employees and deals with a daily challenges, such as changes to bus routes to provide door-to-door service for the special need students that Waterbury serves.

“We re-route buses every day. The constant change is routine,” he says.

Costa’s training in emergency services began during his senior year at Wolcott High School. He worked as a volunteer for an ambulance service, then took a course to become a certified emergency medical technician (EMT). After high school, he became a paramedic and worked 25 years for the City of New Britain. When he left that job in 2006, he was the city’s deputy chief for Emergency Medical Services.

“There are not a lot of people who have stayed in EMS that long and not bowed out,” he says. “I had enough of working weekends, nights and holidays.”

His next stop was at The Next Street, where he worked as an instructor for nine years before joining All-Star as the Waterbury location manager in October 2015. As a manager, he says one of his key concerns is keeping everyone safe. He says the training he received as a paramedic and the accidents he covered give him a deep appreciation for following procedures, and he’s a stickler about safety.

“I push safety and training every day. I understand the need for being safe after all the things I have seen over the years,” he says.
Costa’s focus on keeping people safe doesn’t end when he walks out of the door at night. After work he switches hats and takes up his responsibilities at Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department Company 1. He joined Company 1 in 1980, right after graduating from high school. He served as a volunteer firefighter, EMT and paramedic, becoming a lieutenant and captain before being named deputy chief in 2013. Costa and his wife of 32 years, Karen, have two sons, and both sons also are members of Company 1.

In April, Costa’s service to his community was recognized when he was named Wolcott’s Firefighter of the Year. He and other top firefighters from Connecticut will be celebrated in October when the Connecticut District Exchange Club hosts a special statewide dinner.
Costa notes that his achievements as a firefighter would not have been possible without the support of his family. He says they put up with him missing many family events to attend a fire or emergency, and he recalled leaving his family’s New Year’s Eve party earlier this year to respond to a major fire in Waterbury.

“Families are a big part of anyone involved in emergency services. It takes a commitment by an individual, but also by the family,” Costa says.

Two Trainers Earn State Certification

WATERBURY – Karen Vega and Jeremy Newman, two of All-Star’s long-time trainers from the Seymour terminal, have become state-certified trainers after completing a rigorous state program last week.

“They were recommended by our company, their manager and safety supervisor to apply for this position after several years as trainers for All-Star. It required them to both pass an extensive pre-qualification in June,” says Brenda Bass, All-Star’s safety supervisor.

As a DMV inspector and master instructor observed, they first had to perform a pre-trip as if they were teaching a new trainee. Once the pre-trip was completed they had to complete all the required procedures that a bus driver must do – a student pick-up/ drop-off and a live railroad crossing. They also went out on a road test again with a DMV inspector and master instructor on board. They had to drive defensively and follow all the rules of the road, while continually providing a verbal narration of what they were seeing and doing. There were 20 applicants from all over the state attempting to pass the pre-qualification exam, and  only 15 from the group of 20 made it through.

Next, they had to attend a 40 hours of classroom training at DMV offices in Wethersfield. Each participant had to deliver three presentations to the class – a 5-minute presentation, a 10-minute one and a 15-minute final presentation. It was a grueling five days of classes that ended last Wednesday with a ceremony during which Vega, Newman and 70 others were awarded their new state instructor ID cards.

“We are very proud of them for achieving this distinction and look forward to many years of them training for All-Star,” Bass said.

Wolcott Student Wins Leeds Scholarship

WOLCOTT – Rachel Givens, a 2016 graduate of Wolcott High School, has received a Leslie R. Leeds Memorial Scholarship, one of just three scholarships awarded annually by the Connecticut School Transportation Association.

Givens will use the $1,000 scholarship to help finance her education at the University of Connecticut, Waterbury where she is majoring in Comprehensive Special Education. Givens is the daughter of Danielle and Roy Givens of Wolcott. Roy is a school bus driver in Wolcott for All-Star Transportation.

COSTA, the organization representing Connecticut school bus companies, established the scholarship program 20 years ago in memory of Leslie R. Leeds, who died in 1996 at age 23. Leeds was a Burlington native and the valedictorian of the Class of 1991 at Lewis S. Mills High School. Her mother, Robin, served as the executive director of COSTA from 1982-2004.

“Many students have benefited from this scholarship and we look forward to many more years of helping students fulfill their academic dream.,” said Donna Legault, association manager at COSTA.

The scholarship program is open to COSTA member employees and their dependents. Applicants must be enrolled in or accepted by an accredited institution of higher education, and applicants must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Along with the completed application, high school or college transcripts, essay, and two letters of recommendation are required.

The members of this year’s scholarship committee were: Lucille Ayotte from First Student; Cathy Heath from LEARN; and Ron Tymula from Student Transportation of America.

Hitting All The Right Notes

WATERBURY – Sometimes when she is driving her school bus in Waterbury, Ilia Galarza breaks into song, and the special needs students she is transporting react in a most unusual way – they calm down and listen.

“It changes the atmosphere of the bus,” she says.

Galarza’s voice is a special gift, and she knows it. She shares her gift with anyone willing to listen and that has led her to Spain, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and cities across the U.S. where she performs at local churches.  And the songs she sings are not ordinary, they are songs that she has written.

“I started singing when I was seven,” says Galarza, adding that her mother also sings and that her father plays the guitar and sings.

This spring, she released her first CD, En tú presencia (In Your Presence), a collection of eight gospel songs she wrote and which she sings in Spanish. She arranged all the music and self-produced the CD along with her husband, Luis. The CD is now on sale for purchase or download at CDBaby.

Galarza is very involved with her church, Shekinah Christian Church in Waterbury, where she sings in the choir. When people visit the church and hear her perform, they often invite her to sing at their church, resulting in the many trips she has taken. She says that through her singing she is beginning to understand her role in the ministry she serves.

Galarza’s start as a singer began quite innocently. When she was a child, her father would sit on the front porch of their house in Puerto Rico after work each day, and as the sun set he would play his guitar and sing. One day, Galarza joined in, surprising her father with her beautiful voice. Soon, he was entering her in talent shows where she would sing traditional Puerto Rican songs. At age 19, Galarza became involved in the church and committed to singing only gospel songs.

Galarza, who lives in Waterbury, began working for All-Star Transportation 22 years ago as a monitor. She began driving a bus one year ago. While work took up much of her time, Galarza never stopped singing and dreaming. Every year, she set aside a small portion of her paycheck until she had saved enough to fund the recording of her own CD.

“It took years, living from check to check,” she says. “Now, work is helping to pay for my next CD.”

That next CD is already in the works. All the songs have been written and arranged by Galarza, and she has hired musicians to work with her. The new songs, like the others on her new CD, seem divinely inspired. She says she could be doing anything and suddenly a song will pop into her head. She credits a prayer she offered in 2005 for making it possible.

“I didn’t want to keep playing music from others and paying for songs, so I asked God for inspiration,” she explains. “Now, I have a constant concert in my head. I could be doing dishes and a melody comes into my head. Everything comes at once. All of a sudden, I hear the melody, the choir, the instruments and the words. It just happens. I can’t explain it. I love it.”

She says it’s important for her to sing her own songs, because through them “you can reach deeper into someone else’s soul.” And connecting with others, helping others, is what motivates her.

Through her church she is involved in a variety of missionary efforts. For instance, every February, members of her church spend two weeks in Haiti, building houses, distributing clothes and food to the poor. Galarza participates in the effort when she can while trying not to miss too much work. Her church is also very active in the Waterbury community and is planning to establish a new school in the city.

“We are doing a lot of good work,” she says.

As for the future, Galarza has no plans to change a thing. She plans to keep singing, composing and performing. She also intends to keep driving for All-Star Transportation.

“I love my job,” she says. “I might take time off from time to time, but it’s not my plan to leave.”

Keeping Order While Having Fun

OXFORD – He’s talkative, he’s fun and students love riding his bus. But break the rules, and driver Rich Hoeppner will send you to the “penalty box,” a front-row seat where he can keep an eye on you and where you are separated from your friends.

It’s a compassionate, but effective form of punishment. And if anyone knows about crime and punishment, it’s Hoeppner. He was a police officer for 25 years, retiring in 2005 as a lieutenant in command of more than 100 other men and women in Greenburg, NY, a community six miles north of the Bronx. Prior to becoming a lieutenant, he ran the department’s training unit as a sergeant and then headed the SWAT unit for 11 years. Hoeppner’s career was ended after reconstructive knee surgery, an injury he sustained responding to a 911 call.

“It was not my choice to retire,” he said. “But the department couldn’t be sure that I would make a complete recovery.”

Once he retired, Hoeppner did a lot of different jobs. He performed security background investigations for the federal government and then worked for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). But after more than two years at TSA, he tired of the long nights and weekends.

“I wanted to do something more local, and I didn’t want to work full-time,” he said, explaining that he and his wife, Mary, had relocated to Oxford in 2010 where they had friends and relatives.

“I had worked at summer camps with kids when I was a police officer, and I had three kids of my own, so I had worked with kids and I am a patient guy,” Hoeppner explained. “My wife suggested that I drive a school bus, and I knew two former police officers who were doing it and liked it.”

He applied to become an All-Star Transportation driver in June 2014, and when he completed his training in August, he was assigned to Bus 4 in Oxford. It’s the same bus he continues to drive today.

“Becoming a bus driver went smoother than I thought it would, but that’s not to say it’s been without stress. As long as you set ground rules, the kids generally fall in line. I’ve also gone out of my way to make the bus fun. I’ve come to know the parents of my students, and I want them to have peace of mind and comfort knowing that I am driving their kids. Some of the mothers have said that they are never going to let me retire.”

The penalty box is something that Hoeppner and two fourth-grade boys dreamed up during his first year as a driver. They picked a front-row seat and taped a cardboard Penalty Box sign over the seat.

“The purpose is not to embarrass students, but if they don’t follow the rules there has to be some consequence. Nobody wants to leave their friends and sit near the driver. In very short order, I found the penalty box to be one of the best ways to ensure the kids comply with the rules.”

The kids help police the rules, letting Rich know of violators. And when someone is found guilty, the kids often offer up a chant of “Penalty box, penalty box, penalty box,” until the offending student takes his or her seat in the box.

Students on his bus, with some input from Hoeppner, even created a song that they occasionally sing:

When you’re on your way to school, there is a golden rule.

You got to be good, you know you should.

If you act bad, soon you will be sad.

There’s a special place to go, you broke the golden rule on your way to school.

 Reflecting on his decision to become a school bus driver, Hoeppner said, “It’s been enjoyable. I’ve met a lot of co-workers who have become good friends.”

All-Star Transportation Donates Bus To Waterbury PAL

WATERBURY – When the kids from the Waterbury Police Activity League (PAL) travel to future events they will do so safely and in style thanks to All-Star Transportation.

All-Star Transportation today donated a new and uniquely painted school bus to Waterbury PAL during a special ceremony held at the PAL facility in Waterbury. The exterior of the bus features a colorful collage of photographs taken during PAL activities. The interior is specially equipped with storage racks that make it possible for kids to safely stow their equipment while traveling. The bus also uses propane fuel, making it an environmentally friendly form of transportation.

“We have worked with PAL for 11 years,” said John Dufour, president of All-Star Transportation, noting the company bought the organization its first bus.

He recalled his first contact with PAL, remembering he was told that when “we get children when they are young, we can turn them into good citizens. It really struck me. We have now worked with PAL for 11 years. It’s been great.”

Dufour said that last year he decided to buy PAL a new bus, but he didn’t want just an ordinary bus. “We need to do something really, really cool,” he said.

So, he had the bus wrapped in a full-color graphic. The wrap, which was donated, took 212 hours to apply. To complete the unique look, Zeller Tire of Torrington donated chrome wheels for the bus.

“When everyone works together, good things happen. When good things happen, the corporate community notices and steps up,” said Waterbury Mayor Neil M. O’Leary, as he praised the contributions of All-Star and others.

Waterbury PAL is a not-for-profit organization that provides educational, athletic and recreational programs for children aged 4 to 18. A partnership between law enforcement and the community, PAL serves more than 4,400 children from the Greater Waterbury area, including many from the city’s low-income households.

All-Star Transportation provides school transportation services to more than 30 communities in Connecticut. The privately held company operates 18 terminals with more than 900 employees and 800 vehicles. It transports more than 35,000 students daily during the school year.

All-Star Transportation Receives ASE Blue Seal of Excellence

WATERBURY, CT, Feb. 14 – All-Star Transportation has received a Blue Seal of Excellence from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of vehicle repair and service.

All-Star Transportation, a family-owned business based in Waterbury, provides student transportation services to 30 towns and cities in Litchfield, New Haven and upper Fairfield counties. The company operates three full-service shops in New Milford, Seymour and Torrington, and employs more than 900 people at its 18 terminals, including 30 service technicians.

To receive the Seal of Excellence, 75 percent of a company’s service technicians must be certified by ASE. In addition, there must be a certified technician in each area of service offered. To remain in the Blue Seal program, a business must renew each year and confirm its professionals’ certification status.

“We are committed to providing the safest vehicles and drivers, and it is very gratifying that our efforts have been recognized by ASE,” said Leslie Sheldon, All-Star’s operations manager. “I also believe we have the best mechanics who make it possible for us to provide outstanding service to all our customers.”

“Businesses that have earned the ASE Blue Seal of Excellence Recognition have gone the extra mile in support of their customers. Employing ASE-certified professionals is an important element in their overall customer satisfaction program. We salute those businesses that achieve this goal and thank them for helping promote quality automotive repair and service,” said Timothy Zilke, ASE president.

ASE, based in Leesburg, VA, was founded in 1972 as an independent organization dedicated to improving the quality of automotive service and repair through the voluntary testing and certification of automotive technicians. Technicians, engine machinists and parts specialists have participated in ASE’s program from all segments of the service and repair industry. Today, more than 350,000 professionals are certified by ASE.

Contact: Dean Golembeski, Communications Manager, dean.golembeski@all-startransportation.com, 757-528-7795