Over the last four years, Paul Belyea has given out hundreds of high fives, fist bumps and left an everlasting impression at the corner of Queen Street E. and Elmer Avenue.
The Beach community is getting ready to say a tough goodbye to the beloved crossing guard as he prepares for a new role training crossing guards and working within community safety on a larger scale.
Belyea has become a staple figure in the neighbourhood.
“I used to never remember people’s names, now I remember hundreds of people’s names,” Belyea said.
Citing the “full potential of growth” he’s experienced, Belyea said “maybe if I could do it all again I would’ve done it earlier in life.”
Belyea works the before and after school rush and has grown to love the role. Prior to this gig, his resume was quite a mixed bag. The 48-year-old worked as a DJ, a disc golf promoter and a writer.
“I was working with an employment counsellor and trying to put together my resume. I felt like I was piecing together science fiction,” Belyea said. “I never thought I had any transferable skills.”
He soon realized his people skills were what made him excel as a crossing guard. However, he wasn’t always so outgoing.
“It’s hard to believe but I was a really shy guy,” he said. “This job has really helped me, now I’m pretty good at telling jokes to kids.”
Belyea says he’s enjoyed watching the local kids grow up over the last four years. Often they confide in him if they are worried about a test or having a bad day. It’s a gesture that doesn’t go unnoticed by the parents in the area.
‘It makes me feel safe’
Allison Buck says she admires the way Belyea takes an interest in so many kids’ lives.
“He gets to know our kids, it’s just so amazing,” Buck said.
In a city as busy as Toronto, Buck says having people like Belyea in the community brings her peace of mind as a parent.
“It makes me feel safe letting my son walk home alone, knowing he’s watching out for him.”
Her son is one of many kids who look up to crossing guard — last year Belyea was shocked to see one of the students dressed up as him for Halloween.
“It still makes me laugh when I think about that,” Belyea said. “I was so flattered.”
A Facebook post on a Beach community group has accumulated hundreds of likes and comments — many posts explaining why the crossing guard is loved and will be missed.
However, the mark he made at the Beach corner and with the neighbourhood kids will last long after his departure date.
“It’s been a transformative, life-changing experience,” Belyea said.
“And I know these relationships I’ve made aren’t going to end.”