Making perseverance work

Custodian crew leader earns accolades

When Rosa Mejia first started work as a custodian at Pacific some 18 years ago, she was nervous.

“I was working in Jefferson, my first building I had to work,” she said. “I get nervous when sweeping the floors.” 

Working with two more experienced custodians, she began to sweep, then somehow tripped and almost fell.

“I feel so stuuupid, “ she said, drawing out her words in a soft Mexican accent. She said she thought, “I’ll never learn that, but I saw the other girl doing it so easy, so I thought to myself, ‘She’s doing it, so I can do it, too.’”

Perseverance is a trait that has served Rosa well. With a spirit of determination, Rosa has risen from a new employee to one of three crew leaders for the custodial staff at the Forest Grove campus. 

“She really shines,” said her supervisor, Doug Martin. “Rosa really has a skill to bring out the best in people.”

As a crew leader, Rosa is in charge of about 22 staff members on the Forest Grove campus, noted Martin. She not only does scheduling and supervision of other employees, but she essentially functions as a human resources department.

“She’s really good about working with our rules and accommodating what people need,” he added, noting that “she is a consummate collaborative manager” who works well not only with the custodial staff, but with other departments, including Facilities and Campus Public Safety, and with vendors. “She has wonderful people skills and knows the interworkings of [the] campuses,” he said.

“By importance to the University, if I had to lay off one worker and they gave me choice between myself and Rosa, I think I would recommend they lay me off instead of her,” Martin said.“She is second in seniority here and has the respect of all who know her.”

Rosa’s work day starts at 5 a.m., when she begins cleaning one of the four buildings in her weekly rotation—Knight Hall, Murdock Hall, Milky Way or the Abbot Center—taking care of bathrooms, offices, garbage, and vacuuming and mopping as needed.

Then, at 8:20 a.m., she drives one of the work crew’s golf carts, picking up the trash and recycling bags from all the buildings on the Forest Grove campus and depositing them in the proper disposal areas. Twice a week, she and her crew also deliver paper supplies, such as paper towels and other items, to the buildings.

She also attends to many managerial tasks, with a day that ends at 1:30 p.m. Usually she works a Monday through Friday schedule, but sometimes she also works on weekends when there are special events on campus.

Rosa made a decision to come to the United States as a teenager, she said. At age 19, she was working as a cashier in a pharmacy in her hometown of San Juan de Viña in the Mexican state of Michoacán.

“I’m so tired to get little pay and my parents, they have so many kids and I was thinking always…people from my town come to the United States and get jobs and get money and send it to them in Mexico to help. So, I was dreaming about that,” she said.

As it happened, her uncle, who worked in the U.S., his wife and their three children came to visit Rosa’s family in Mexico.

“So, I told my mom, maybe I can ask…maybe I can go with them and maybe I can take care of the babies. ‘Do you give me permission?’” Rosa said.

“And she say, ‘Well, if you get responsible and you don’t have a boyfriend up there and you don’t get married; you work and do the best you can, I believe in you.’”

So, Rosa did ask her uncle and did go with the family to the U.S.

“I send the money to my parents,” she said. “Twice a year, I went back to Mexico and send two, three suitcases with shoes, clothes and toys for my little sisters.”

Eventually, Rosa married Octavio Garfias, a U.S. resident, moved to Cornelius and began working at Pacific in 1994. The hardest part, she said, was learning English, but with help from the Center for Gender Equity, which offered language classes for the female custodian staff, she now speaks and understands the language well.

“I love work here and living here,” she said. “I feel so proud, the job what I’m doing. I feel so grateful because the staff, the students, the people around always say thank you.”

Rosa has three children, Rebeca, 11, Octavio, 14, and Carmen, 15, all of whom, Rosa jokes, were almost born at Pacific because she worked almost up to the date of each birth. Her children’s dreams for the future, she said, involve a college education: Carmen wants to be an interior designer, Octavio would like to be an orthopedic surgeon and Carmen wants to work at Intel.

“It’s why I stay working here, and they like Pacific,” she said.


Posted by Jenni Luckett ( on Jun 18, 2012 at 9:55 AM

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