Employees broaden their minds
Education benefit helps in setting goals and improving job opportunities
|Mary Frances Johnson
Photos by Dan Addison
By Anne Bromley
Two U.Va. housekeepers won writing awards recently — for one, a fulfilling recognition of a hobby she loves; for the other, a surprise for her newfound talent.
Mary Woody and Mary Frances Johnson were among the 16 winners out of 100 entrants whose essays were chosen for the “Voices of Adult Learners” contest. They read their work at a spring Virginia Festival of the Book event.
Woody said she loves to write, just like her mother, who had two recorded songs to her credit. Of all the subjects in her prep classes for the General Education Diploma tests, writing was her favorite, she said.
Johnson had never spent much time writing but entered the contest on her teacher’s encouragement. She never dreamt she’d win, she said.
The contest, sponsored for almost 10 years by the Regional Literacy Coordinating Council, draws participants from Charlottesville and surrounding counties who are in GED, adult literacy or English as a Second Language programs. Contestants choose from among several topics, including “family” and “at the workplace.”
Woody, who has worked for the U.Va. Housing Division for 18 years, wrote about her grandmother; this entry was the second time she won. Along with writing for class assignments, Woody keeps a notebook at home, where she writes when she gets the chance, especially when she’s feeling stressed out, she said.
“It helps me relax. It helps me cope.”
When she was growing up in Goochland County and Schuyler, a town in Nelson County, her grandmother kept the family together — literally and emotionally. When Woody’s mother was hospitalized for six months, Woody’s grandmother took care of her daughter’s brood of five, despite the financial hardship. Woody said her grandmother loved children.
“She was joyful, young at heart. She would dance with you,” Woody said. Toward the end of her life, she appreciated seeing her great-grandchildren, too.
In her essay, Woody wrote, “If I have one of [my grandchildren] love me as much as I loved my grandma, I would be the luckiest grandma in the world.”
Woody tells her seven grandchildren, “Stay in school. Today in this world, you’ve got to have the GED or a diploma, or you can’t get some jobs.”
Woody, who cleans dormitories, loves the students, she said. “That’s my favorite thing about working at U.Va. … They have ways of making you feel special.” For her last birthday, they gave her two dozen roses and a bonus check.
Mary Frances Johnson
Johnson also has realized that having a high school diploma opens doors, and although she doesn’t have children, she said she’d give the same advice to anyone.
A member of the Facilities Management housekeeping staff for about 22 years, Johnson wrote her essay about her workplace and getting to know the students. Meeting interesting people is one of the things she likes best about the job, she said. She has worked in many different buildings on Central Grounds and recently moved to Clark Hall. With the newly renovated library, it has become a “fast-paced” place, she said.
Johnson’s housekeeping job entails everything from cleaning restrooms to removing snow and ice on sidewalks at doorways. But her favorite part, she wrote, is doing the floors — stripping, waxing and buffing.
Sam, one of the students who often studied in a classroom Johnson cleaned, told her he liked the sound of her vacuum cleaner — the noise helped him study. He planned to become a doctor and would show her his textbooks sometimes. One day, Sam told her he had leukemia, but it was in remission. After a while, she noticed he wasn’t coming around anymore. She asked another student if he was OK, and found out Sam had died.
“That was extra sad, because he was only 23 years old. He didn’t get to fulfill his dream of becoming a doctor,” she wrote.
Johnson and Woody said they appreciate having good benefits with their jobs, such as being able to take classes. Johnson still has to pass two parts of the test. Having dropped out of high school, she’s learning algebra and geometry for the first time. Woody found out June 14 that she passed the last test and will earn her GED.
It has been a hard road but one that’s definitely worth it, both agreed. They know they’re working toward goals: improving themselves and broadening their job opportunities.
All the “Voices of Adult Learners” essays are online at http://www.avenue.org/adulted/voal.html (scroll down the page to find the links).
Three other employees earn GED
'Lystra Sedeno and Markietta Frazier, who work for Facilities Management housekeeping, and Alison Pipkins, who works in housing, will be honored for earning their GED at a July 27 Apprentice Graduation Induction and Training Recognition Ceremony, along with other employees.
Although U.Va. has paid for employees taking GED classes in the past, Facilities Management and the Housing Division began partnering last year to make it easier for employees to fit GED and ESL classes into their schedules, offering on-site classes between day and evening shifts. The departments cover expenses for classes, materials and testing fees.
“It’s an investment in the development of our employees,” said Donna Barnes, human resources and training manager for Facilities Management. This year, about 24 employees took GED classes, and about 17 took ESL classes. The latter group comprises mostly recent refugees from places like Rwanda and Serbia, Barnes said.
GED classes will be offered again in the fall. Interested employees should call Barnes at 982-5896 or Deb Meyers, training coordinator for housing, at 243-8720.