Every month I will be profiling an extraordinary person who lives in our town. If you know someone who is walking to the beat of their own drum, doing selfless and inspiring things or living a life that isn’t ordinary, I want to hear about it. Email me at [email protected]
Chris Cherry has never met a kid he didn’t like.
“Kids are amazing,” he says. “Even the bad ones. And usually they are the ones who just need a little bit of guidance.”
The 58-year-old head custodian at Huntsville Public School is a kindred spirit. There’s a gentleness to him and it’s detectable in his eyes and in the way he carries himself. He’s not worn down by the job or doing it just because he has to. There isn’t one thing he doesn’t love about what he does and the kids, well, they are the reason for that. They give meaning to each and every day he spends working at the school.
There’s a stigma attached to custodial workers; Chris is well aware. But he wants to set the record straight.
“People think a custodian is a floor sweeper and that’s all. That’s 10 per cent of the job. As the lead hand I deal with a lot of things. Rentals, I put in work orders and I deal with the contractors that are hired. Yes, I do some cleaning. I got to keep up with the whole fire and safety aspect as well. Sometimes I have to do minor repairs. Generally if I can fix it I’m going to. If it’s a much bigger scale, then we need hired help.”
You’ve got to have a mechanical aptitude to do the job and do it well, says Chris. Being versatile in your skillset is obviously an asset too. You also have to be willing to learn. After all, you never know when there might be a break in a water line or an electrical problem. If there’s a maintenance job that requires him to call someone in, he usually ends up helping them. But most of all, in order to be a school custodian, you better love kids. Or the job isn’t for you.
To be honest, the reason I got into this line of work is a bit selfish. If you think about your public school days you probably remember having a favourite principal or teacher. I had a favourite custodian. He helped me out when I was in Grade 6. He was the guy I could vent to and talk to so I moved back here I thought why not hand that back?
The school secretary will vouch for Chris’s caring nature and so will the principal, Todd Truax. Chris goes above and beyond the requirements of his job on a daily basis. He will do anything for anyone. Like last week when Chris went out of his way to help two Grade 8 students learn the ropes of health and safety in the workplace. For two days the boys trained under him while he devised mock tests and inspections. And the students won the competition.
And that’s just one example of Chris’s dedication to the kids. He does his best to make an appearance at almost all the special events held at the school. That’s an easy way he can show his support for a school he views as being one of the best in town.
Plain and simple, Chris just gets kids. He is not an expert in any way. He just has a natural ability to get down to their level.
If a student does something good but the job isn’t quite good enough you need to talk to them about it. Maybe give them a little confidence boost. A lot of times kids want to do something good and get acknowledged for it.
And it’s effortless on Chris’s part to make students feel valued. Now that he’s done his job helping to raise three of his own boys, he’s enjoying this second chance to be around kids.
Prior to his job at Huntsville Public School, Chris spent five years as a custodian at the high school where he continues to maintain a friendly relationship with some of the students. Even the teenagers seem to think Chris is pretty awesome. It’s not uncommon for a few of them to show up at the school with a coffee for their favourite custodian. It’s little things like that that can get Chris all choked up.
“It kind of blows me away,” he says. “I love it when the parents and kids recognize that you care. It makes my whole day. I lowered a bunch of coat racks for the kindergarten kids so they could reach them. When I came through hall, that was the first time they had seen the racks and they were all thanking me. It was overwhelming. It’s a politically correct world so you just stand there with your hands up. But it makes it the whole thing worthwhile.”
It’s that look of excitement and gratitude on a child’s face when Chris is able to retrieve a toy that’s been flushed down the toilet or one that’s been stuck in a sink drain for a few days. Or it’s the sheer joy that overcomes a little girl when he lets her know that he will get her favourite stuffy that was accidentally thrown over the fence. That is what makes his job the best. That’s the ultimate. And the kids are always grateful that Chris is there to save the day.
Chris says that he would not be able to do his job without the help from David Verch and Michelle Summerville. Those two are his reliable helping hands and he wouldn’t be able to do what he does without them.
(A big thanks to Huntsville Public School secretary Jackie Parkin and principal Todd Truax who promptly called me back to suggest Chris Cherry as this month’s extraordinary person. )
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