The lumbering bus pulls to its stop in front of Glendale Community College and a few students lazily vacate their warm seats to disembark, sleep and deep thought evident on their collected brows.
It is early in the morning and the sun has begun to rise over the red-tiled roofs of GCC. A short distance from the bus stop one comes upon the manicured lawns and clean grounds of the college dotted with little orange, blue or white buggies dashing in and out of view lugging their cargo of tools and solitary passenger on some errand.
A few students, wrapped up against the early chill, furiously pound the keyboards of their tiny phones; others are reviewing their sprawled notes. This early in the morning, everyone is wrapped up in preparation for the day ahead without much thought of things that don’t fit into their busy lives.
I walk into the dark classroom and blindly feel for the light switch. When the florescent bulbs burp to life, I find the glistening white dry-board in front of neatly arranged rows of chairs, devoid of gum or gunk, ready to accommodate students.
“It takes five hours each day to collect all the trash for disposal,” says custodial supervisor of facilities, Gus Rocha. “However [work] doesn’t end with cleaning and picking up trash. Sometimes we have to deal with the homeless who try to find shelter in the restrooms. When the campus police leave at midnight, if we happen to find anyone on the campus grounds that shouldn’t be there, we have to approach them and try to talk them into leaving, which isn’t always easy. I feel for the homeless, but we can’t allow them to spend the night here.”
What most of us do not think about or realize is that before we arrive at GCC for another busy day, there has been a small army of people at work to ensure us a clean, functioning environment.
This small group of people whose job it is to whip into shape that which was less than pristine is as diverse a group as Southern Californians in general and GCC itself. This crew hails from three continents that include the Americas and Asia, with names like Raul, Niloufar and Virna, representing a mix of cultures, yet they all unite for the duration of their workday for the common good of us all. They are the custodians who wipe, scrub and fill everything from unwanted graffiti, abandoned refuse and dispensers full of soap to paper work and such.
Like most of us, these unsung workers, face the every day tribulations that life entails – family, illness, bills and unforeseen events among others, yet they are an extraordinary group of people who possess dedication, honesty and commitment.
Raul Yepez is one such person among this group. I found this agreeable man carrying two boxes of supplies to his assigned building under a mild drizzle. “I came to Glendale College four years ago from Garfield Campus,” he starts in his calm reassuring accent.
Yepez has three children, the youngest still attending college on a football scholarship. “I’ve worked since the early ’70s,” he pauses and looks down the empty hallway. “As the first born son in my family, I felt that I had to work to help my parents. I always believe that whatever a person does, like a circle, will come back to him. So I’ve always tried to do the right thing,” he continues.
When asked what he’d like to say to the students, he replies, ” Like I say to my children, try to educate yourself and do good.” Later I learn that Yepez had found a wallet possessing substantial amount of cash and credit cards, which he had turned in to the campus police.
Rosa Maldonado is a single mother of three girls who is also a member of this small, dedicated family. While working in the maintenance department for 10 years, she has put two of her daughters (her twins) through Harvard, and her third child is currently working on her master’s degree at Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles.
The choreographer of this dedicated group is 34-year-old Rocha, a native Californian who came to GCC in 2004 after 12 years of service with the Pajaro Valley Unified School District. Rocha and his wife, who is in the process of earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing, are raising two daughters ages 6 and 3.
I met Rocha at the offices of the maintenance department. He is friendly and serious, but speaks with a soft tone that immediately puts one at ease, the cement that binds the crew together. ” Every thing we do is geared to make GCC a better place to work in for our students and staff,” he says.
We walk the grounds at Glendale College visiting the new warehouse and office spaces in the newly built Bhupesh Parikh Health Sciences and Technology Building that will soon be the new home of Maintenance and Operations.
When asked what he would say to students, Rocha modestly replies, looking down for a moment, “I’d like to say this is your college, please help us to keep it clean.”