Renita Smith did not even think about her own safety when she entered a burning school bus. No, the only thing on her mind was the safety of the 20 young kids that September day. Her act of bravery even caught the eye of Ellen DeGeneres! However, what the host found out about her lifestyle was shocking.
A bus driver, Smith, felt that the children were her responsibility when they were under her watch. She was a mother of two herself, so we can see why her maternal instincts kicked in. She made sure to double-check that there was no one left behind when the accident took place.
Even though she felt like she was only doing what other people would have done, many saw just how amazing she had been. A lot of images of the flaming school bus made rounds on the internet.
Various publications also talked about her bravery. Many hailed her the hero of that unfortunate accident. Fazlul Kabir, a City of College Park council member, penned a Facebook post in that same month. It came with photos of the burnt bus!
There was also a video of the fire. The footage came from the dashcam of a volunteer fire man. News outlets used this video, and DeGeneres soon got wind of it. However, not everything about Smith would impress DeGeneres.
Upon learning more about her life, the talk show host was appalled by some of the things she learned. This was the reason that Ellen invited this mother of two onto the show. The celebrity wanted to make things right for the heroic driver!
Smith started working as a school bus driver in 2014. Not once did she imagine she would end up on that famous couch. She lived in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. It was about 20 miles southeast of Washington, D.C.
Her daily bus routes serve the Prince George’s County Public Schools in the area. Driving was more than a way for her to pay the bills. It was a passion for Smith as well! She enjoyed doing it and likes meeting the pupils.
She had a great bond with the young people who boarded the bus she drove. A mother herself, she knew that her role came with a great responsibility too. We understand that parents are concerned about sending their kids out into this world on their own.
However, Smith can see where they are coming from. This mother of two always treats the students taking the bus to be her own. She makes sure to drop them off safely at the end of the day. This is the reason her instincts flew into action that Monday evening of September 2016.
Smith knew exactly what had to be done. This driver had been on the usual route, dropping off the students from Robert Goddard and Glenarden Woods Elementary Schools, when she saw something weird in the rearview mirror.
What could it be? The route involved dropping off the children to their houses in the College Park area. The place was near the D.C. border of Maryland. It had been right before 5 PM when she made her third drop-off for the last batch of students that day.
That was the time the warning light lit up her dashboard. But why? It turned out that the brake light lit up to alert her of some mechanical problem with the bus. This experienced driver knew that she could make it to the next drop without any problems.
After that, she planned to see what the problem was. However, the reality did not align with what she had in mind. Smith went on to the next drop-off point. It was only a block or two away, after all.
However, she did not go any further than the next stop sign. At that point, the children – aged 4 to 9 years old – were starting to get agitated. They all smelt something burning and let Smith know about it right away.
In 2016, the bus driver got to talk about the event in greater detail when she spoke to Ellen. “I got maybe to the next stop sign, and my babies [said], ‘Miss bus driver, we smell smoke,’” she narrated.
Smith stopped the bus after that. She could also hear the warning signal going off. She talked to Today about it in 2016: “We didn’t see the smoke, but we could smell it… And the smell – I can’t explain it – was horrible, and the kids were saying, ‘Ms. Bus Driver, the bus is smoking.’”
Of course, she started to see just how urgent the situation was. As a matter of fact, Smith was aware that she needed to call this in to the transportation manager. As she tried to get the radio, she glanced in the rear-facing side mirror of the bus.
That was the moment that she figured out just where the foul odor was coming from. “When I picked up the radio and I looked through my side rearview mirror, I saw the fire,” she told Today. At that point, there was no longer any denying how serious the situation was.
Luckily, Smith knew that time was of the essence here. It was a good thing that her “babies” also knew how to proceed. Upon noticing the fire, these elementary school students formed one line to get out of the bus.
Smith also acted as quickly as possible when she noticed the flames. During her interview with Today, she said, “I unbuckled my safety belt, I opened the door and got my babies off that bus.” It was a good thing that the bus had been in a residential area.
This meant that there were neighbors around to help them out. When the locals saw what was going on, many of them went over to assist the kids to safety. However, Smith could not help but worry if she was able to get all the students out of there in time.
Can you just imagine what it would be like if someone was left behind? Smith has spoken about the way everything proceeded when she spoke to Ellen DeGeneres. The bus driver said, “The neighbors jumped in and got the babies to a safe haven, and then I ran back into the bus, because I had to make sure all of my babies were accounted for.”
It looked like everyone else was able to make it out safely, but Smith decided to go back inside the bus. At the time, the bus was quickly being filled with noxious smoke and fumes. The bus driver braved all of these to make sure that every seat was left empty and only got out when she confirmed this.
It was only when she saw that the bus was clear that she got herself to safety. After checking the last seat at the bus rear, she then turned and went back toward the door. It looks like this bus driver timed the exit down to a tee.
As she got to the last step, the coach was then engulfed in flames! However, Smith was not concerned about her safety at all. She just wanted the kids to be safe! It is incredible to hear Smith say that she had no idea how risky it was until she got to watch the footage of the wreckage.
As soon as the others were able to catch their breaths, the intensity of the moment became clear. The fire was still raging, and it burned intensely. Luckily, it was only contained to the bus. “This fire was going too fast. I had a little extinguisher,” Lucy Kilin, a resident, informed NBC Los Angeles back in 2016.
“[But] it was too late. I couldn’t do anything.” The onlookers could do naught but to look at the smoke going up as well as the flames consuming the bus until the arrival of the first responders. Footage of this inferno had been caught by the dashboard camera of one of the volunteer firefighters.
It showed a pillar of black smoke rising from the school bus while the flames leapt from the roof and windows. You can also hear the emergency responder say that the vehicle had been “fully engulfed.” After watching the video of the fire, Smith could not help but feel overwhelmed by the experience.
She told Ellen, “That’s what brought tears and emotions: the ‘what ifs.’ And I didn’t know [the fire] was that bad until [I watched the video].” At any rate, the kids were all safe thanks to her quick thinking. Whew!
A university professor and council member by the name of Fazlul Kabir posted photos of the burnt bus on his Facebook page and had kind words for Smith. He said, “A big thank you to our school bus driver… who just saved 20 elementary school kids from a bus fire that completely destroyed the bus.”
Kabir posted photos of the charred remains of the vehicle along with his message. He went on, “Not only [did Smith take] each one of the 20 kids from the bus one by one, [but she] also went [back] again into the empty bus while it was still burning. Thankfully, all the school kids went home safe.”
All For Her
He has also described the events during an interview he did with ABC back in 2016. “Without [Smith], the school children [wouldn’t have been] saved… She went inside for the very last time. She went inside and checked each seat to see if any of the students were left there… It’s a fairly long bus actually. It’s not a small bus. She checked if everyone was out, and nobody was inside… She’s brave,” he said.
One of the young kids on the bus spoke to NBC Washington in the same year. Here was what she thought of what Smith did: “I think it was extremely heroic, and it was very amazing… If she [hadn’t done] that, I don’t know what would have happened.” The parents picked up the kids later that day.
Lisa Maitland is yet another student who was rescued from the burning school bus. She told WJLA-TV that she did not know what was going on until she heard someone say, “Fire!” She then said, “When I was smelling the smoke, it smelled like a rubber kind of gas.”
Luckily, she had a distraction when her peers were starting to get worried about the current situation. “I felt scared,” she went on. “I was about to cry, but my brother did instead, so I helped him.” If you ask us, things would have turned out differently if they did not take the calm approach.
This way, they were able to evacuate the entire bus and save everyone’s lives. Smith was also recognized by the school. That’s right! Glenarden Woods Elementary School knew that the bus driver did more than was required of her.
This was the reason they dubbed September 28, 2016 Renita Smith Day. Scores of students went to a party held in her honor as a way to show their gratitude for her bravery. They all cheered for her! Smith felt overwhelmed when she saw the hundreds of students there.
They carried banners saying stuff like “Thank you!” The bus driver even got to see a personal performance by the choir dedicated to her. The DuVal High School Marching Tigers band also showed up that day. Smith could not help but cry when the young kids she rescued each gave her a rose.
Dr. Kevin Maxwell, the CEO of the school district, unveiled a plaque in her honor. When he spoke to NBC Washington, he said, “I saw the smoke and the flames, and she showed her unthinking, unflinching courage.” That was not the end of it all for Smith, however.
The story reached local news and then made its way to the national media outlets. Soon enough, the story would even capture the attention of the folks on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. The famous TV personality even invited Smith to appear on the talk show! However, DeGeneres was appalled when she got to know more about Smith. This bus driver had it rough as she supported her young daughter and teenage son.
As a matter of fact, going to Burbank in California for the show was the first time she had ever flown in her life. When it comes to her kids, Smith explained to Today, “It scared them a little once they saw the pictures, but they’ve been awesome: they are always supportive of their mom.”
Even though she never wore a cape, her kids consider her to be a true superhero. Talking of her kids, Smith told Today, “It scared them a little once they saw the pictures, but they’ve been awesome: they are always supportive of their mom.”
And although she may not wear a cape, to her kids, Smith is no less of a superhero. DeGeneres ended up giving Smith a $20,000 check for the bravery she displayed. This money was given as a gift from Shutterfly, an image publishing firm.
Through this company, The Ellen Show gives out donations to folks with inspiring stories such as this bus driver. The website says that it has given out about $2 million at this point in time! Smith continues to show her humility when she gets the chance to speak about that day.
Here was what she told ABC News: “When I’m driving [you], you’re my children until I drop you off to your biological parents. I have to handle each child with care – as a mommy would her own – so that’s what I did. That’s what I hope any human being would do for any child.” Based on this heartwarming story alone, we can see that Ellen DeGeneres is in possession of a good heart.
Maybe we should all start calling her Ellen De-generous from now on! There is more proof of her kindness over the years. Did you know that she recently gave away so much money it made a record?
She ensures that all of the money goes to deserving folks. The lucky recipients had such priceless expressions on their faces when they were presented the gift in front of a live studio audience!
We cannot deny that Ellen is great at what she does. There is a reason she is so famous among TV viewers, after all. The host has won the highest number of People’s Choice Awards in the past. On top of that, she has 30 Emmys to her name. In 2016, she was granted the Presidential Medal of Freedom too!
She is also involved in a lot of humanitarian work. Did you know that she is a huge LGBTQ rights and animal protection activist? While she is a great talk show host, we think that her philanthropy deserves attention as well. Together with The Ellen Show, she has raised millions for various charities and causes.
Remember that famous selfie she took during the 2014 Oscars? It has raised money for causes as well. She took the photo with the likes of Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence on a Samsung handset. The phone manufacturer then offered a dollar to charity for every retweet. In the end, they were able to raise $3 million. This fund was then donated to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and The Humane Society.
She is also a believer in rewarding those who try to be good human beings. In December 2011, the show gave out $28,000 worth of presents to a struggling family. The host also gave away a lot of other things on the show. Of course, she priorities people who are actually in need!
Pay It Forward
We can see that Ellen also likes the concept of paying it forward. In early 2015, she used the show to promote a pizza parlor where clients were encouraged to leave money for extra slices that would go to the homeless. By the middle of the year, the customers paid for more than 23,000 such slices. Aww.
Same Old Trick
In February 2019, she had been up to the same thing. This time, there was a rather impressive twist. She opted to honor the Daniels family, which was composed of Robert, Christi, and four kids. They had met Ellen before, so the talk show host explained their current situation to the members of the audience.
“I told you we had the biggest surprise we’ve ever done for one family,” Ellen announced in the clip she later put up online. She added, “And when I say it is big, it is big. We met the Daniels family [in] November  when they entered a contest to sit in our Skybox for the 12 Days of Giveaways.”
“After the show, we learned more about them,” she went on, “And I wanted to help. Take a look.” The show then cut to footage of them from November. Everyone saw Christi and Robert celebrate in their Skybox. Ellen explained how they won the contest. They did it by sending a video of them dancing!
“Now, you’re the ones who sent a little note saying that that video spiced up your love life,” she said in a humorous way. “And I don’t know why you felt the need to write it in a note… Don’t get too excited up there!” They played more footage and showed their meeting on January 16, 2019.
The Whole Crew
Robert and Christi came with their four kids for this meeting. “It’s good to see y’all again!” Ellen said before talking about their situation. “So you’re going through a tough time financially,” she said. “It’s just hard, with four kids,” Christi replied. “We’re in a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment.”
“We’re grateful for what we have, but it’s hard,” Christi went on. “Christmas is really tough for a lot of people,” Ellen replied. “And it was really tough for you.” She then addressed one of the kids, “R.J., I want you to tell everybody what Christmas means to you.” This young man told everyone on the set his answer, which went, “To me, Christmas isn’t about getting presents.”
“It’s about giving presents to others,” R.J. explained. “Seeing other people smile, it just makes me feel good.” The audience applauded his words. “I know you watch every single day,” Ellen told the entire family. “So why don’t I give you every single thing we gave away on all 12 days?”
The flashback clips end there. DeGeneres, in the present, updated the audience about their family story. “So this morning, Jeannie surprised them at their apartment in Hawthorne, California,” she said. “And this is what happened.” The show then cuts to correspondent Jeannie Klisiewicz waving at Ellen.
“Hi, Ellen!” Jeannie greeted her, “I’m here in Hawthorne, C.A., about to surprise the Daniels family!” She knocked on the apartment door and found them inside. “I need you to listen up really carefully, okay? You have ten minutes to get ready because I am taking you somewhere. I cannot tell you where!”
The parents then got the kids ready by getting them to brush their teeth and the works. The family got into the car without any idea about where they were headed. The car did come with a huge photo of Ellen’s face on the roof. While visible to the audiences, the passengers had no way to see it.
“We may not be able to tell you guys what’s going on,” Jeannie told the Daniels. “But you just gotta trust me. Y’all trust me?” Everyone answered in the affirmative. The family sang and cheered as the car made its way to the studio of the talk show. Ellen and the members of the audience were waiting for them!
“So that was earlier,” Ellen said, as the cameras return to the studio of her show. “I’m told they’re pulling onto the lot… They’re going to be coming through those doors. They didn’t even know they were coming here. They realize that now!” The members of the audience all laugh as the cameras showed the family getting out of the car.
The Daniel family entered the set as Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” played. DeGeneres embraces the kids as the audience members cheered them on. At that point, Ellen explained to them what was going on. Why exactly did she bring the family back to the set of the show anyway?
“Y’all are very trusting,” she told the family with glee. “You didn’t know where you were going, you just got in a van!” At last, she started to explain it all to them. “Last time you were here, we gave you all 12 Days of Giveaways. So this time you’re like, well, what are we doing now? So I’m going to tell you!”
After the commercial break, she finally revealed it all. “We’re back with the Daniels family, who we’ve all grown very fond of around here,” Ellen said. “We just couldn’t stop talking about you when I met you. And I just love your kids; I think they’re amazing.” What was it about the family that she loved so much?
“What we love about y’all is that no matter what you’re struggling with, no matter how you’re living paycheck to paycheck, you still want to pay it forward, still help others,” she said. “Even with the 12 Days of Giveaways, you helped somebody out at Walmart, right?” True enough, Christi did that.
“It was a family behind me, and they had a newborn baby,” Christi admitted. “And I just paid for their items.” She added, “And we were doing little things before, but since the show, you have sparked something else in us. You make us want to do more, go really hard.”
“We love you, but we’re not the only ones who love you,” Ellen told them. “We found some other people who love you.” The Daniels watched as footage played. It was of people who knew them and had good things to say about the family! They all spoke of the generosity and kindness of their family. Aww.
“What makes Robert and Christi special? They could go to any party, and the party could be a zero,” said Pete Reece, their friend, “By the time they step into the room, it’s 100.” Robert’s sister, Sari, also spoke about them: “Having Robert as a brother has inspired me to want to be a better person.”
There were more praises to come. “When you find people who are truly genuine, you do have to hold them near and dear,” said Quiballah, another friend. Others spoke of the difficulties they faced in the past. “It’s been hard for them raising the four boys in the two-bedroom,” said Diane, Christi’s mother.
“Sometimes there’s things that they need,” Diane added, “It just was such a blessing when Ellen picked the video of them, and I’m so thankful to [her].” At the end of the footage, the Daniels were in tears. “I can tell that means a lot to you, that touches you a lot,” Ellen said. That was not the end of it just yet.
A Big Surprise
“You’re here because we’re going to do something big that we’ve never done for any family ever,” Ellen told them, “It’s the biggest thing we’ve ever done.” She then offered the family breathing exercises to help them all calm down. “Let’s just take some breathing, just deep breathing,” she said.
Christi was still feeling emotional after seeing the video her friends and family made for her. “That was so special,” she told Ellen. The host then offered her water but completely changed the topic after that. “So, you like Cheerios?” she asked them. “I love Cheerios.”
“It’s a wonderful cereal,” Ellen said in reference to Cheerios. “It’s a wonderful company, because they put [out] a lot of positivity and make good go round in the world, because they really care about paying it forward. That’s their whole thing.” But what did this have to do with anything? Well, just you wait.
“I’ve gotten to know the people of Cheerios very well,” Ellen then went on. “Because I’m partnering with them for this pay it forward. They want to do two things for you, okay? The first thing they want to do is give you $500,000.” Christi and Robert then cried with joy when they saw a man take out a huge check.
Can you believe that there was still more to it than that? “That’s one thing,” DeGeneres said. “We’re gonna take a break, and I’m gonna give you – we’ll come back and give you the other thing after this.” She did not lie about this whatsoever. However, the host made sure to bring the audience to speed first.
Half A Million
“We’re back with the Daniels family,” DeGeneres explained. “We just surprised them with $500,000 from Cheerios and that is going to take care of a lot. It’s going to take care of your debt, it is going to take care of college for your kids. You’re in a two-bedroom apartment; you can buy a house now.”
“Thank you so much, and thank you, Cheerios,” Christi said. “I just have to tell you that you are a true humanitarian, and I love you,” Robert told Ellen. “If nothing else, I just want to tell you from the bottom of my heart that we really, really love you, and we always have.” Ellen only told him, “I love y’all, too.”
“So, I said we have two things, right?” DeGeneres reminded them all. “Cheerios wants you to have $500,000 because they want you to take care of all your needs. But they love that you give back to the community. That’s why Cheerios is doing this, because they’re all about one million acts of good.”
“We’re always looking for people to write into us and tell us what they’re doing, because we want to spread this around in the world,” she went on. “And they know that you love to pay it forward. So now, the $500,000 is for you. They’re giving you another $500,000 to pay it forward however you want.”
Robert and Christi were totally shocked. The audience members erupted into cheers again as another check was given to the Daniels. “That’s one million!” Ellen shouted. “Look at that!” The host then brought out their extended family, who had been in the wings the whole time.
Everyone exchanged hugs and cries when Ellen spoke to the cameras. “A big thanks to Cheerios,” she said. “Cheerios, thank you so much. I’ll see you tomorrow!” What a truly exciting moment that must have been for all of her fans! The million-dollar gift was the biggest Ellen ever gave away to a family.
Ellen also made sure to put news of their generosity and reward on social media. “I can’t think of a more deserving family to receive the biggest gift in the history of my show,” the talk show host said on her Twitter account on February 7, 2019. Of course, everyone praised the show, Ellen, and the Daniels.
“This is such a beautiful act of kindness! We are excited to see how they pay the money forward. You can tell that this family is genuinely excited to give to others!” one person chimed in. “They deserve it all. So humble and full of love,” a different person said. At any rate, we agree that no one else deserved it more than this family did!