Friday, April 19, 2013

The "hi's" and lows of housekeeping

By Caitlin Beesley, Guest Writer

Life on the Pacific Lutheran University campus would stop dead in its tracks if not for the men and women who lug garbage, unclog toilets and pick up after their charges every day. And they do it with a smile.
“I enjoy it. I enjoy the students. That’s part of it too,” housekeeper Mavis Clemens said.
For nearly 30 years, Clemens has picked up after generations of Lutes. To many hall residents, she is like a second mom — their mom away from mom.
Clemens is  often treated like family. While working in Tingelstad, she was once invited to Christine Alberto, the previous resident director’s wedding, followed by a resident’s own wedding.
“They each made a point of asking me for my address so they could send me a card. And I really appreciated that. It was really nice,” she said.
Showing appreciation for the dedicated cleaning staff doesn’t always have to consist of wedding invitations, though.
“One year, all of the custodial women were nominated for inspirational woman,” Leona Green, manager for housekeeping, said, and “they get gifts and cards at Christmas time.”
Green, who has been manager since 2007, said it’s just another way of showing the housekeepers their work is appreciated.
Regarding cards, Clemens said “I’ve had a lot of that. I enjoy those.”
It’s not all nominations and cards, however.
“I’ve seen pranks,” Green said. “Not so much done to the custodial staff, but things we have had to take care of.”
When she previously worked in Foss, before she became manager, she once walked into the second floor hallway to find it covered in shaving cream. Another time, she walked in to find no shower curtains in the building.
“In Harstad, they’ve got plungers in the bathrooms, because there is such a problem … even more so in Harstad,” Clemens said, saying this is caused both by older plumbing and by some flushing sanitary products down the toilet.
“I don’t think they understand that tampons cannot be flushed down the toilet. They get clogged,” she said, seeming embarrassed to be talking about such a private matter. “That’s probably why we have more problems in Harstad, or at least it seems like we do.”
Clemens said students in the larger dorms, such as Tingelstad and Pflueger, often overstuff the bathroom and kitchen garbage with personal room trash.
“That means we have to make more trips … because it’s heavier,” she said.
“I heard that one of the housekeepers hurt their back because they weren’t expecting [that],” Ashley Gill, a first year living in Pflueger, said, speaking of the garbage’s weight.
There used to be a solution for this, Clemens said. Christine Alberto, the previous RD of Tingelstad, said she had her RAs go through the garbage and if they found a room number on it, the residents would get their name put up on the package board, and their package was their garbage. Smiling, she said, “it didn’t happen too often after that.”
A notice has been placed in Tingelstad kitchens informing students to empty all liquids from containers, like coffee from cups, into the sink. The sign then reads, “your custodial staff appreciates your consideration.” This is an attempt to lessen the weight of the garbage bags.
Another subject of concern for Clemens and other housekeepers is the amount of students who ignore posted cleaning times in resident bathrooms.
“We’ve got 30 minutes, and that’s not 30 minutes for the bathroom, that’s 30 minutes for the wing. That’s just to keep our schedule,” Clemens said.
Cleaning staff cannot go into a bathroom if a student is already inside. When students know and adhere to the posted times for cleaning, it helps the housekeeper to get in and out as quickly as possible.
“If they can hear me through the door, I ask them how long, and if they say 5-10 minutes, I say, ‘how about cutting it down to two,’” Clemens said.
Describing what it takes to keep the halls clean, she said, “it’s a team effort,” and, “this is their [the residents’] home. They’re living here. When you’re at home, you pick up after yourself.”
Gill had a different take on the teamwork between residents and housekeeping.
“I don’t think PLU could manage without housekeeping. Everyone is so busy,” Gill said. “Not many [residents] realize how much they [housekeeping] actually do.”
Being at PLU is the only time some are away from their families who may take care of cleaning, Gill said, but “now housekeeping are the ones who take care of us.”
Clemens and many other housekeeping staff have taken over for residents’ parents with regards to cleaning up after messes and trash. But they may have also gotten an emotional hold on some.
“After [a while] your faces run together,” Clemens said, even as she greets a student by name a moment later. “[You] don’t have to tell me your life story, but just say, ‘hi, how are you,’ and a smile. Smiling hits everybody.”