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Behind the Scenes: Staff Share Hidden Stories

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The custodians, lunch ladies and hall monitors of Homestead perform the dirty, repetitive or vigilant jobs that are essential to the school. Many, however, do not know much about these critical members of the Homestead community. Check out their hidden stories below.


A Cleaning Cart                                                                                               

As she patiently and ever so calmly strolls her janitorial cart through the halls of Homestead, Valarie Johnson, custodian, thinks of her six beloved grandkids back home.

Johnson enjoys her life in Milwaukee with her biggest inspiration–her grandchildren. She lived in Milwaukee her whole life, growing up with her inseparable twin sister, Valmarie. She reports having countless adventures with her back home. She also recalls that her grandfather was a head custodian at Roosevelt Middle School, so taking in the job was not a surprise, even though she believes cleaning has always been just “all right.” Johnson also claims that luckily, she has a perfect relationship with the head custodian, Dave Kautzman, a great boss in her eyes.

Spending time with her grandkids, however, has always been what she loves to do. In fact, they motivate her to work two jobs, because the extra money she earns is dedicated for them. She describes the amazing feeling she gets after giving them presents. “I love seeing the smiles on their faces after I say, ‘Here, this is from granny.’” Johnson speaks from her heart when asked what her biggest dream is: “ I wish I could live to see my grandkids grow up.”

When the interview wounds down, she gives yet another of her hearty fun laughs that you can’t help but smile at. Then, she walks away thanking me for the interview once more.

She finds her cleaning cart and proceeds on with yet another day.


Behind the Counter                                              

Donna Laughlin, one of Homestead’s lunch staff,  rapidly creates sandwiches, adding a “Have a nice day” as she delivers each and every order, never failing to add a hint of happiness to each customer.

Laughlin has worked at Homestead for four and a half  years and has lived in Milwaukee her whole life with an abundant amount of siblings. She explains there were many difficulties living in a 900-square-foot house with one bathroom to be shared with five brothers and two sisters.“We were a very close-knit family, we all just had to get along,” Laughlin said with a chuckle.

Food has also played a big part in her life. She explains how when she ate the delicious food made by her grandma, or her dad’s delightful potato pancakes, she was sure cooking would be a part of her life. Laughlin was right, as she has worked in the food industry for 37 years as a restaurant manager, server and now, one of the lunch staff at Homestead. She claims that it was a great choice to work at Homestead because now she gets the weekends off to spend time with her family. Besides, she is a qualified sandwich maker after surviving in the quick sandwich-making-world of Wendy’s at age 18.

According to Laughlin, being able to make a person’s day a little brighter by complimenting them or leaving a nice message behind after handing them their sandwiches every day is one of the best parts about her job.“I love making an impact, and pleasing people is very motivating,” she said.

She giggles as she remembers the time that a young man came with a guitar singing to the lunch staff out of the blue. She claims those little things brings her a lot of joy. However, the thank-you’s Laughlin receives daily brings enough positivity to spark the delight in working at Homestead every day.

She describes how students are always polite and friendly. Consequently, possibly the worst part of her job is seeing the diverse set of senior students with so much potential wander off to the big world every year, where she will most likely not see them again.

Outside of her everyday joy of working behind the counter, however, her son Robert, a freshman in college, proves to be the reason she works so enthusiastically every day. “My biggest dream has always been to send my son to college,” Laughlin said. None of her brothers or sisters went to college, including herself, due to a lack of finances, even though good grades ran throughout the family. However, every day is a great day for Laughlin.

“It makes me happy to make everybody else happy,” she said.


Patrolling the Halls

Despite the scary and unfriendly stereotypes about hall monitors, the opposite can be said about Lenny Carter, who always has somewhere to go or something to do, but never fails to share a smile.                         

The Beloit resident had a fun childhood growing up with his brother Antonie and his mother. Carter reports an “interesting relationship” with his younger brother. “There was some sibling rivalry between the two of us, but at the end of the day we loved each other and had each other’s back,”  Carter said.

When he is off work, one can find Carter practicing sports, working out or sleeping–to “rejuvenate,” he said. And if he is not doing that, he is definitely spending time with his family. He explains that he has a very tight relationship with all his family.

Carter graduated from Hofstra University in New York with a degree of Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration of Sociology and Human Development after earning a football scholarship. His dream still remains to return to school to go back and earn his master’s degree. In the meantime, however, Carter enjoys working at Homestead as a hall monitor.

Since the start of Carter’s job a year ago, he loved the school’s football program and its amazing reputation. Carter appreciates working in this new, friendly environment as one of the three people working as hall monitors. “Everybody is very welcoming,” he said.

Carter laughs when he describes the daily amusement that he gets from listening to the random conversations students have, including their ridiculous arguments. However, he grieves about the annoyance of catching a troublemaker who doesn’t admit their deed and tries to lie their way out of the situation.“Just be honest,” Carter said. Despite these minor frustrations, however, he still keeps a close relationship with most of the Homestead students. Carter explains building relationships is very important, because “that is the essence of all jobs.”

Carter is also easy to share a laugh with. When asked his biggest regret, he answers with a chuckle, “Well, I regret not playing in the Powerball last week.”

“Tomorrow is not guaranteed, so really enjoy and live each moment as if it would be your last, because the reality is, it could be,” Carter said.

Valarie Johnson, custodian, walks the halls with her cleaning cart.

Valarie Johnson, custodian, walks the halls with her cleaning cart.

Lennie Carter, one of three hall monitors, patrols the halls.

Lennie Carter, one of three hall monitors, patrols the wing by the cafeteria.

Donna Laughlin, member of Homestead’s lunch staff, prepares sandwiches for students.

Donna Laughlin, member of Homestead’s lunch staff, prepares sandwiches for students.

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4 Comments

4 Responses to “Behind the Scenes: Staff Share Hidden Stories”

  1. Daniela Solomon on February 1st, 2016 8:59 pm

    It is amazing to remember all these people that work everyday “behind the scenes” to make the life of every Homestead student better.
    Thais congrats for the very nice interviews and great applause for all the wonderful employees that could share a little bit of their lifes to all of us !!!!

  2. Marlos S Marques on February 2nd, 2016 10:24 am

    Very nice Thais. Informative and not forgetting the human touch.

  3. Luana Angelica Solomon on February 3rd, 2016 5:01 am

    Congratulations for all Homestead employees, specially for Valarie, Lennie and Donna that shared their stories! Well done Thais. Keep going with your keen eye, full of empathy and accurate understanding. Makes me proud 🙂 Tia Lu

  4. alex solomon on February 3rd, 2016 10:33 am

    Amazing Thais.

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Behind the Scenes: Staff Share Hidden Stories