Essential Generosity

8 June 2020

Carleton’s custodians are always ready to support students, often in surprising ways.

a man sweeps a basketball court
Like his colleagues, Custodian Todd Hildebrandt P’13 is committed to keeping campus game ready.

Jackie Flynn loves her routine. Early each morning, she cleans the east and west rooms of Page House, then moves to the Weitz Center for Creativity to scrub the dressing rooms and tidy faculty offices. Even as the coronavirus drove most students and faculty and staff members off campus, Flynn and her colleagues stayed behind. Essential workers, the custodial staff works diligently behind the scenes, ensuring that there are clean spaces to learn, live, and work. For the past 27 years, many of them have also supported another of the college’s indispensable functions: financial aid.

a custodian cleans a window
Todd Hildebrandt P’13 cleans windows in the Great Hall.

Back in 1993, Jackie’s mother-in-law, Pat Flynn P’86, decided to rally her fellow custodians after listening to then-president Stephen R. Lewis Jr P’86 explain the financial hardships students and their families often face. If all the custodians set aside just three dollars from each paycheck, Flynn reasoned, they could make a meaningful impact.

a bowl full of coins
In years past, custodians donated the loose change they found to fund their scholarship.

“Carleton custodians have a great relationship with students and really care about them,” says Patti Sabrowski, custodial services manager. “We definitely take pride in why we’re here.” Sabrowski began contributing to the scholarship a few years after its inception, when the parameters expanded to allow donations from managers, the staff, and faculty members.

Jackie Flynn says she gives to the scholarship because she understands hard work. Born in the Philippines, she spent more than two decades as a domestic worker in Singapore, France, and the United States and strived for years to earn an associate’s degree. Since coming to Carleton in 2010, she has come to cherish the thank-you notes, invitations to events, and friendship she receives from students.

For sociology professor Annette Nierobisz, giving to the custodians’ scholarship “just clicked.” She was raised by middle-class immigrants in Canada, and in her parents’ generation there was a system for working your way up. These days, the rungs on that ladder are harder to find, she says, so it makes sense to give others a financial boost. Nierobisz also knows the benefits of students from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds interacting with one another. “It creates a well-rounded class to teach tough material,” she says. “If every student is from an upper-class background, it can be hard to help people to understand the impact of social inequality.”

The Custodial Scholarship has been awarded 28 times, and because it’s an endowed fund (with a market value of $205,732), it will continue to support students as long as the college is around. A few recipients have been the children of Carleton custodians, and in 2015 it supported Pat Flynn’s granddaughter, who hadn’t even been born when Pat started the scholarship.

Preference is given to students who work for Facilities Management. This year, one recipient is Thomas White ’22 (Lawrence, Kans.), who works as a student custodian in his own Goodhue Residence Hall. Like Jackie, he appreciates routine: he wakes up, cleans, takes out the trash, then heads for class.

“I always thought it would be an important experience to have a position that’s often overlooked or underappreciated in the larger society,” he says. “And I like that being responsible for cleaning up other people’s messes gets me thinking about the messes I make.”

In addition to paycheck deductions, other sources of funding both large and small help boost the scholarship’s coffers. Each year proceeds from the Custodial Craft and Bake Sale are added, and in the past—when students carried around more cash than cards—custodians used to find mountains of loose change as they cleaned under couch cushions and furniture in common areas. “We started collecting them in empty yogurt containers and coffee cans, and one year there was three hundred dollars,” Jackie says. It all went to the scholarship.

“This job is so rewarding, and the people are so compassionate,” says White. “I know I’ll stay in custodial services the rest of my time here. Plus, I love how there’s a whole community coming together to support students.”

Posted In

Appears in Issues: