Trucker Buddy program looking to keep the message alive.

Trucker Buddy is a simple initiative that pays rich dividends for everyone involved -- for the drivers, for fleets, and for the public image of trucking. But above all, for the kids. It's a marvelous program that brings the story of trucking alive in America's classrooms. But it needs more drivers to share their experiences of life on the road. And a little funding would help carry the message even further.

Sponsored this year by Chevron Global Lubricants, Trucker Buddy is nothing more than a pen-pal program linking professional truck drivers with kids in grades 2-8. Drivers send picture postcards weekly, describing their adventures on the road. It allows the students to track the driver's travels and the teachers to tailor lesson plans in history, geography, and math to what the driver is doing. Each student writes back monthly.

While it's not a requirement of the program, about half of the drivers take time from their schedules to visit the kids and talk to them in person.

Currently, there are 5,400 Trucker Buddies catering to 135,000 children. "Every year, we receive more requests for a Trucker Buddy from teachers than we have drivers to fill the slots," says Gary King, founder of the program and a former driver himself for 26 years.

Drivers report that the involvement provides them with a sense of fulfillment, the kind of affirmation that what they're doing matters. King understands. "The job gets old," he says. "It's often a lonely, thankless job. There are not a lot of `attaboys.'"

"The interaction with classrooms is a wonderful way to promote safety and establish the relationship of sharing the road with trucks early on in a student's educational experience," says Bruce Stockton, vp-safety for CFI, Joplin, Mo. "Drivers benefit through the personal satisfaction of viewing their profession through the eyes of a child eager to learn about the world."

But drivers are not the only beneficiaries. That pride translates back into the company in terms of increased energy, excitement, and sense of purpose.

Consider Roberson Transportation Services, Champaign, Ill. The fleet has 35 drivers -- nearly 5% of its company drivers -- involved in the Trucker Buddy program. "The drivers feel like it's been one of the most rewarding aspects of their job," says Brian Griffin, vp-marketing for the company.

Griffin estimates the company spends about $5,000 a year supporting each driver. Roberson has established a "Haul of Fame" in which unusual loads -- like the amusement ride cars recently delivered to Disney World -- are photographed and blown up for the driver to send to the class. "These pictures help bring the load alive and tell the kids what purpose we serve and why we're there," says Griffin. "These products just don't appear out of nowhere. It gives them a sense of what we're doing. We break it down in its simplest format."

But Trucker Buddy works because it's designed to bring the trucking experience to a whole generation of kids. As the kids grow up they'll have a much broader understanding of and appreciation for trucking. "The kids of today are the drivers of tomorrow," says Norma Vogel, who, along with her husband Harry, drives for U.S. Xpress out of Vandalia, Ohio.

Indeed, the impact is here and now -- but only if you make the commitment of drivers and follow the suggested funding guideline of a buck a truck.