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The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Silent Superheroes; City College custodial staff go above and beyond the call of duty
Gerald “Jerry” Pair, custodian, and Jamie Garcia, custodian, in the middle Jamie running supplies to Hughes Stadium on City College on Friday, March 1, 2019. Photo by Sara Nevis | Staff Photographer | [email protected]

by Luan Nguyen | Staff Writer | [email protected]

Jerry Pair remembered working the graveyard shift one November night in 1991. He had just locked up the business building but did not go upstairs to clean right away. It was late into the night, and rain was falling hard outside. When Pair went to the second floor, he saw that he wasn’t alone. A student was still in the building, apparently seeking shelter from the rain. 

City College custodian Gerald (Jerry) Pair knew what he had to do the moment he saw the student. He knew also that it was going to be one of the unpleasant parts of the job. 

According to custodial supervisor Michael Castelle, “(Custodians) are here to make the campus inviting, clean, and safe, as much as possible for all students, staff, public renters, anyone who comes on campus.” 

Usually, their tasks don’t involve interacting with students. Some City College custodians, nevertheless, find themselves to be the ones whom students open up to or the first ones to find out about issues some students face. Where they can, and in their own ways, the custodians do their best to help. 

On that November night, Pair had to ask the student to leave. There were rules against having anyone inside the building past hours, according to Pair. 

“And (the student) said to me, ‘Well, can’t I just stay here? I won’t be in your way,’” Pair recalled.  

It wasn’t something that Pair wanted to do and the student seemed to understand that, and eventually, he left.

“He didn’t want to go out,” Pair said. “It was pouring rain!”

In the mornings, City College custodians have different kinds of conversation with the students they see. 

Custodian Amy Wright, who has been working at City College for 10 years, has frequently come across students during her morning shift. They would talk to her while she cleaned the restrooms. Sometimes they told her how stressed and worried they were about upcoming exams or about failing their classes. Other times they boasted of having passed their classes or would show off their achievements. 

“I had this one gentleman hollered at me from across the quad and showed me his certificate,” said Wright. 

He was an older student, said Wright, “maybe 60-plus years old,” who had just gotten his certificate of completion. 

“To see them happy and excited because they got their certificates of completion,” said Wright. “It makes my heart smile.”

Wright, who has a son around college age, said she likes to root for college students to do well in their courses. She tells struggling students to “hang in there” or to “stick with it” and not to give up.  

Some of the students Wright often saw were in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. 

“They were worried about learning their English,” said Wright, “because English is a hard language to learn. You know, there’re some words like ‘they’re,’ ‘there,’ ‘their’—it could be confusing.”

Wright knows that some students are trying to learn English and doesn’t mind when they try to practice their English with her.

“I’m in the restroom if they want to practice,” said Wright. “The more the better for them.”

While many students struggle academically during the day, a few others struggle to find a place to sleep at night. 

Back in December 1992, Pair was again working the graveyard shift, he recalled, this time in the aeronautics building. On his way back from the North Gym where he had just purchased a soda, one of the bike lockers in front of the gym was suddenly kicked open from the inside.

“He scared the hell out of me,” said Pair. 

Then Pair recognized him. He was the same homeless student Pair had first met in the business building and would afterward see on campus, this time holed up a bike locker along with a sleeping bag and a pillow. It had been over a year from the first time Pair saw him, and the same student was still homeless but was still going to school. The student, according to Pair, recognized him, too. 

“He (said), ‘Aw, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you,’” Pair remembered him saying.  

The bike lockers were around 4 feet high, wide at the opening and narrow at the end, and could only be locked from the outside. When he had to clean the lockers, Pair used to find clothes, blankets and pillows. 

The student, according to Pair, had been sleeping in the bike locker at night and going to the gym early in the morning to shower and brush his teeth. 

“And you know that’s gotta be cold,” said Pair. “There was no heat in those bike lockers or nothing.”
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Pair wasn’t the only one who has found homeless students seeking warm shelters on campus. 

City College custodian Jamie Garcia remembered one early Saturday morning during the fall semester of 2017 when he opened the doors on the south side of the music building, entered the hallway outside the practice rooms and found, lying on top of one of the cushion chairs, a student staring back at him. The jingle of Garcia’s keys, according to Garcia, had awoken the student. The student, seeing Garcia’s uniform, knew that he’d been found out.

Outside, it had been raining lightly, and the campus was cold and wet. Garcia, who was always easy-going and soft-spoken, didn’t like ordering the student to leave.

“‘You know you can’t stay here,’” Garcia recalled telling the student.   

The student was initially upset, according to Garcia, because he was being asked to leave.

Garcia asked what he was studying, and for a while, they talked. And Garcia saw that the student was in low spirits.

“I go, ‘Hang in there!’” Garcia said.“‘It will be better. You’ll get your degree. It will be better. The doors will open, and you can get away from this weather. Three years from now’–I said–‘you’re going to be in the sunshine drinking a pina colada.’”

“He liked that!” said Garcia jubilantly, recalling the effect it had on the student. 

Garcia then saw the student out the door and walked with him across the quad before parting ways. 

“‘Are you going to be OK? Have a good one,’” Garcia said to him. 

The student said that he was and said thank you. Simple words, Garcia said, help a lot. 

This sentiment is shared by fellow custodians and their supervisor Castelle. 

“It could have been that one thing that turned that student from us,” said Castelle. “Saying he or she is OK, versus, you know, ‘Get off! Get out of here!’ You could have made that turn going left instead of right.”

Staying a few minutes to talk and listen or offering a friendly greeting can make a difference in how students see the campus environment. 

“It makes a big difference,” said Castelle. “Why do I feel that? Because it shows that somebody cares, that somebody takes an interest in them outside of their classroom environment.”

After that night at the bike lockers, Pair often saw the homeless student on campus and would talk with him when he saw him, though not at any length. On many occasions, Pair saw the student taking classes in the business building.

Then the last time Pair saw him was near the end of spring semester 2017 when the student said goodbye. The homeless student whom Pair had first met over 25 years earlier told Pair that he wouldn’t be seeing him anymore. He said that he had completed his requirements and was transferring to either Sac State or UC Davis. The student told Pair that he was moving on. 

Pair never saw him again. 

This wasn’t the only homeless student that Pair knew. In spring 2015, another student told Pair that he was homeless and was living in his car. Pair told him to see counselor Juan LaChica in the RISE program, a resource on campus that assists students by providing access to counseling, tutoring, books, computers, food and more. 

When a homeless student comes to him for help, LaChica tries to find as many housing opportunities as he could through public listings and his contacts.  

“You try to get (them) referrals. Then you hope that they follow up on it because you can only do so much,” said LaChica. “You hope that they find a home. Whether they do or not, we don’t know that unless they come back.”

However, according to LaChica, many referrals are not successful because of a certain policy or regulation. The students, he said, needed to keep trying. 

Fortunately, the student Pair met in 2015 was eventually able to find a room.

Pair, like Garcia and Wright, advises students that he sees to persevere in their obstacles, “You tell them, ‘Don’t quit. Don’t give up. It may be rough right now. But, you know, down the road it’s going to all pan out.’”

The custodians remind students that the difficulties they are going through are only temporary; when it’s over, they can look back upon those challenges and be proud of how they overcame them.

“You always tell them, ‘You’ll be telling your grandkids when you get to be an old man what you did to get through school,’” Pair said.

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