The men and women who clean, care for and maintain the buildings and airports of New York were honored at the 2018 Building Service Workers Awards. 32BJ SEIU and Straus News organize the annual awards, where family, co-workers, employers, tenants and elected officials celebrate the dedication of building service workers who keep our city running.
This annual event recognizes workers for their the dedication year in and year out to keep our offices, schools, public buildings and airports safe, clean, and efficient. Winners were selected from nominations from co-workers, employers, building residents, and friends.
ADEM KAJOSAJ: EAST SIDE DOORMAN OF THE YEAR
There’s no such thing as a typical day in the life of Adem Kajosaj. As the morning doorman at 175 East 74th Street, he assists residents with everything they need. The hardest part of the job, he says, is staying calm when things get hectic. “You can be sitting here for five or 10 minutes and not see anybody and then all of a sudden you have food deliveries, you have people calling down, so you kind of have to balance everything,” he says.
Luckily, the crazier moments come in waves. In between, Kajosaj loves hearing stories from the people and families he has come to know very well over his 14 years there. “I know their friends, I know their guests, so we do get kind of close,” he says.
Kajosaj would recommend his job to anyone, but he adds that his seemingly boundless energy is a crucial tenet of his position. “I’m a firm believer in the energy you give off is the energy you receive,” he says.
He sees it as part of his responsibilities to greet everyone with positivity no matter their disposition. He particularly enjoys the social aspects of the job and meeting people from all walks of life, from nannies to tenants’ coworkers. “You get to hear a little bit of story behind everybody.” 175 East 74th Street is the only building he’s worked in and he loves the neighborhood around him, calling it “the spot to be.”
When’s he not at work, Kajosaj is a traveler with global aspirations. He oftens visits family in Albania and recently went to Hawaii for the first time. He’s been to Italy and Switzerland and his father’s hometown of Montenegro. He loves hiking, especially the portions of the Appalachian Trail in his native New Jersey. Kajosaj also plays the drums and the guitar. He roots for the Brooklyn Nets — which was originally a New Jersey team — and the Buffalo Bills. He’s close with his parents and two siblings, often spending time with them in New Jersey.
MARIA ALEXANDRU: MIDTOWN OFFICE CLEANER OF THE YEAR
For more than two decades Maria Alexandru has dedicated her life to cleaning Trump Tower.
The Romania native moved to the United States in 1989, but never imagined that she would be working in New York City for 24 years, let alone at the same job.
She explained that being recognized for her service is nice, but she is a modest person and doesn’t like the spotlight.
“It was a surprise,” she says. “I’m a good worker. I’m honored.”
Alexandru, 66, first worked as a movie projectionist in Romania. Although she didn’t have a dream job, she wanted to live in America where there are more opportunities.
“I’m a person that accommodates,” she says. “If you put me in a jungle, I’ll survive.”
Alexandru recalls how she started at her job. She was in the street crying and suddenly someone sweeping saw her and connected her to an office. From there she hasn’t looked back.
“I’m very happy working there,” she says. “You stick with the job because it’s steady and it provides for you.”
Over the years she has gotten to know many tenants and has seen President Donald Trump, his daughter Ivanka and son Donald Jr. She notes that when she’s gone, the replacement cleaner is always asked, when is Maria coming back?
However, during the recession from 2008 to 2010 many people in the building lost their jobs and even her hours were cut from 47 to 15. (Her hours were eventually restored.)
While she has never met the president, when Trump first announced he was running for elected office Alexandru made a sign that said “Vote for Trump” and stood between Fifth and Sixth Avenues with it. The insults hurled at her made her not do it again.
Today, she lives in Kew Gardens with her husband Juan Camargo, her 27-year-old daughter Nancy and her two dogs, Luca and Coco. She loves to cook and spend time with her family. Alexandru is a cancer survivor and hopes she continues to be healthy well into the future.
“Me and my husband, we are like a stamp and an envelope, we don’t go anywhere without each other,” Alexandru said.
Her job has also allowed her to send money to her mother, Elaina, 93, who still lives in Romania.
“I enjoy what I’m doing,” Alexandru says. “I’m doing the job right because I like it. When you leave the house, you come to work and you leave everything behind.”
SINOUN BUN: DOORWOMAN OF THE YEAR
Sinoun Bun is in the right place for someone who loves kids and families as much as she does. Bun has been a doorwoman and concierge at 300 East 77th St. for 16 years and has come to know her building’s residents well.
She delights in working there and considers it a second home. “I love everybody — all the tenants, all my staff,” she says. “The building makes me happy, because all my kids are very old. Over here it makes me very active.”
Bun’s actual home is in the Bronx, where she has lived since coming to the city from Cambodia in 1983. She spent a brief period living in Philadelphia, where one of her daughters is working towards becoming a dental hygienist.
She has four children for whom she likes to cook just about anything; her kids particularly love her pasta. In her free time, Bun enjoys fishing. She goes to Crotona Park and Bear Mountain, and catches everything from striped bass to blue perch. “My dad got me into it and I got addicted to it,” she says. “It meditates your mind and keeps you from all the drama.”
A self-described independent woman, Bun has had to advocate for herself as a female in a male-dominated industry. She started out in housekeeping and babysitting and worked her way up to doorwoman and then
concierge. She handles packages, phone calls, work orders and everything else that makes the Upper East Side building feel like home.
The key, she says, has been to treat everyone equally. “If I have something to say I’m going to say it. I’m not so intimidated. I can’t let somebody look down on me,” she says. Besides, she gets along with
To other young women hoping to get ahead in the industry, Bun advises that they be patient and stay strong.
KRISTINIA BELLAMY: HELPING HAND AWARD
Kristinia Bellamy is a fighter. She battled and defeated breast cancer in 2011 and lost her husband in the line of duty 13 years ago.
Bellamy, 49, has worked for 12 years as a cleaner in Manhattan at 919 Third Ave., a 47-story building that houses law firms, a bank and a retail store. About a year ago she became a shop steward as well.
Bellamy was born and raised in Far Rockaway and as a child dreamed of being a flight attendant. While she never got that far, she did fly often when she worked as a ticket agent at American Airlines at JFK Airport in the 90s. Bellamy noted that one of the coolest places she went to was Grenada.
After leaving the airline in 2001, she worked at an office building in Westbury, Long Island. Her supervisor there, Christopher Hughes, connected her to a new job as a floor lady at the Hearst Tower.
She started at Hearst in 2006, which was just a year after her late husband Jeffrey Bellamy, an undercover ATF agent, died on the job. So a job at night with more peace and quiet was better for her.
While she enjoys the stability and the lawyers, it can be challenging. “Working at night … messes up your whole system,” she says. “You can’t go to sleep when you get home.”
Bellamy cleans the 19th and 20th floors of the building and learned quickly that if she isn’t friendly with the lawyers there, they may not be nice to her. Many of the lawyers work later than she does, so having a rapport with them really helps, she explains.
She also enjoys talking with many of them and has even become friendly with some over the years. In fact, she is friends with a former tenant of the building, Alec Rothstein, who now lives in London.
“If you don’t talk to the tenants on the fl oor your job is hard,” she says.
Bellamy, who now resides in Bayonne, NJ, likes to spend her free time with her husband, Steven Cherry, and her two sons, Anthony, 30, and Jason, 27. She also enjoys giving back to the community.
For the past eight years she has volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club in Jersey City, where she mentors young girls. Right now, she is working with two girls in middle school, Azha and Anaya.
“These chicks are like my kids,” she says. “They’re very smart kids, but they come from troubled homes. I enjoy doing it. It makes a difference with these kids.”
As she looks to the future, Bellamy says she is happy with her family and job.
JOSE GUICHARDO: WEST SIDE DOORMAN OF THE YEAR
Jose Guichardo came to New York City almost 40 years ago from the Dominican Republic. He was working in a shop in 1983 when the work dried up and a friend who was a contractor gave him the tip about 175 West 70th Street. Guichardo interviewed for a doorman position, got the job, and started that night. “That’s how the whole journey started,” he says. “To tell you the truth I didn’t plan it.” He has been there ever since.
Guichardo takes care of packages, deals with contractors, handles guest keys and serves as a layer of security. He calls his job “rewarding, because you meet people from different backgrounds, different countries.”
“You hear their background, their family experiences, you learn about other cultures,” he says. Over the years he has built relationships not just with tenants but with housekeepers, babysitters and tenants’ families. He remembers how helpful residents were when he started out, having no experience, and credits a partnership of mutual respect with creating a great work environment. “They really embraced me,” he says. Guichardo is especially grateful for his situation because he knows not all doormen are so lucky. Guichardo credits his affable personality and willingness to go the extra mile with his success on the job.
Outside of work, Guichardo spends time with his wife, a teacher’s assistant, and their two children in Washington Heights, as well as with his two brothers. He has traveled to Canada and throughout the southern U.S. He also pursues his hobby of street photography, and belongs to a group of visual artists who put on occasional shows. He has been honing his skills for the past 15 years taking photos of events and doing street photography.
KOLE PALUSHAJ: BUILDING MANAGER OF THE YEAR
This line of work is in Kole Palushaj’s genes. Palushaj is a third-generation member of 32BJ and comes from a family full of supers like himself. “Fifty percent of my family is in the union. My roots run deep,” he says. He grew up in apartments all over New York City learning the trade from his father and grandfather.
Palushaj has only been at his current building, the landmarked, 134-year-old 205 West 57th Street, for the last 18 months, but he’s been in the industry for 18 years. He oversees a staff of 11 people and manages the residents of 90 units — a very different feel from his previous West Village building with 400-plus units. He says his day never really starts or ends. “I can be up overnight to get my daughter a gallon of milk and there’s three or four things that need my attention on the way out the door,” he says.
The job of managing a building has changed a lot from his father and grandfather’s day, and now relies far more heavily on technology like smartphones and powerpoints. “It’s no longer the 50 pounds of keys and a guy walking around with a plunger and a flashlight,” he says.
Palushaj started as a doorman on Park Avenue and worked his way up the ladder from there. He says all the jobs he’s had have been equally hard, and credits a close mentorship with his first building’s resident manager with helping him rise to the top. “He took me under his wing as a handyman, taught me everything I needed to know and put me on the right path,” he says.
For that reason, Palushaj is adamant about helping young people in the industry the same way he was helped. He had a few temporary employees working for him this summer who he has set on the same path his mentor laid out for him years ago. “I gave them the same advice he gave me, which is if this is what you decide to do and you stick to it, you can make a very lucrative career of this industry, where it takes you,” he says.
In his limited free time, Palushaj is a family man. He and his wife have an eight-month-old daughter and a four-year-old son. He is the president of the Metropolitan Building Managers of New York and is actively involved with the 160-member organization. He was awarded “resident manager of the year” by the Metropolitan Building Managers this year as well. “A friend of mine said you can only go down from here,” he jokes.
COREY GREEN: PORTER OF THE YEAR
Corey Green is a quiet, reserved man whose generosity of spirit speaks volumes. He has worked at the five buildings comprising Riverbend Houses in Harlem since 2006, when he served as vacation relief. Today he considers the residents family. They feel the same way about him. While Green is reluctant to talk himself up, the people he helps on a daily basis are happy to do it for him. One resident cited a time Green came in from his home in New Jersey on his day off to drive her to the doctor. She called him “a kind gentleman not just to me but to everyone in the building.” Another resident recalled when Green helped clean her apartment after it flooded and noted all the times she’s seen him carrying groceries for some elderly tenants.
The feeling is mutual. “They’re beautiful people,” Green says. “It just makes my day.” Green’s job involves watering plants, sweeping and hauling garbage, but he says the hardest part is dealing with snow. “A little bit of everything, you could say,” he says. Though he’s responsible for a large number of units across five buildings, Green says it’s not too much to handle. “I go the extra mile for people,” he says.
Outside of work, Green enjoys riding his bike and playing basketball. He spends time with his wife and her kids. He was born in Harlem and now lives in New Jersey, where he appreciates the plentiful parking and quieter atmosphere.
RENE RICHARD: LONGEVITY AWARD
Rene Richard grew up in Haiti with ambitions of becoming an engineer, but never in his wildest dreams did he imagine he would work more than four decades in Manhattan’s Garment District.
Richard, 67, moved to America in 1974 and quickly found his first job as a deliveryman. One day while working, a man asked him to fill in for someone who had called out sick. That particular gig turned into 42 years of working at 225 West 37th St.
“I’m the last of the Mohicans,” he said. “Not too many people could say they have done a job for 42 years.”
His first day of work was June 7, 1976. He has worked the front desk, been the night man and now operates the freight elevators.
Richard has seen the ups and downs in the building. He witnessed sadness and emptiness during the recession, when many people lost their jobs, but has also seen people stay for many years and gotten to know them.
More importantly, he has become friends with all types of people in the building. He’s attended their weddings, their kids’ graduations, Sweet 16s and bar and bat mitzvahs.
“It’s like family here,” he said.
Richard originally lived in the city, but about 20 years ago moved to quiet Harriman in upstate New York. He felt it was a good place for he and his wife, Gladys, to raise their kids, Jerry, 33, and Tanya, 24. Besides the nonstop snow in the winter, he loves the relaxing suburban atmosphere.
While the commute is 90 minutes, after a few weeks he got used to it.
In his free time, Richard enjoys being with his family. With retirement on the horizon, he knows he will miss his job, but having the opportunity to spend time with his kids and wife make it all worth it. He knows he has worked his behind off for more than four decades and soon he can reap in the rewards.
“I will miss the people, but we can’t work forever,” he remarked. “When I came somebody gave me a chance. Now I have to give the young guy a chance too.”
ZORAIDA RODRIGUEZ: THEATER CLEANER OF THE YEAR
Zoraida Rodriguez wasn’t that into plays and musicals until she started working as a theater cleaner. After 12 years on the job, though, she has seen just about everything that’s come to Broadway. She has worked at theaters up and down the Great White Way, changing locations as shows close and new ones open. Some favorites include “Cinderella,” “Sister Act” and “Shrek.”
“Sometimes people are like, ‘how did they do this?’ and I’m like, ‘I know what’s going on backstage,’” she says of her unique access to behind-the-scenes magic. She recently started working at the Bernard Jacobs Theater on West 45th Street, where Jez Butterworth’s “The Ferryman” just opened.
Rodriguez came to New York City from the Dominican Republic in 2005 and now lives in New Jersey with her 23-year-old daughter. She is especially proud of her two children and her granddaughter, who she loves taking to the playground on her days off. Rodriguez and her family like to go to dinner and movies. They also travel to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to visit Amish communities.
“They have a theater, so they do plays. It’s amazing,” she says. “I’ve seen many shows on Broadway but those are beautiful. They use real animals.”
The hardest part of her job, Rodriguez says, is fitting in all these things around her unusual hours. After working mornings she returns to the theater around 9 p.m. to clean after the show, so she often returns home late. But she loves her coworkers, whom she knows from jobs at other theaters. She also enjoys having conversations with people buying tickets about which shows are good and what to do around the city. “Sometimes we get into conversations about different plays, the city, the restaurants,” she says. “I like what I do.”
CORTEZ LAGROON: COMMERCIAL SECURITY GUARD OF THE YEAR
Cortez Lagroon’s upbringing in a family of preachers is evident in his dedication to helping others. Lagroon has been in the security industry for 26 years — he was at Google for 12 years and has been at 1 Court Square for five — but he has made a career of going the extra mile for people. Asked what people rely on him for, Lagroon says “everything.” Even when he was offered a more lucrative job at a different building, he decided to stay at 1 Court Square to help coworkers. “I get a joy out of helping my fellow workers,” he says.
Lagroon also is active in his own community in the Bronx, where he often provides advice and mentorship to neighborhood kids. He says it’s a life lesson he learned from his mom. “My parents always said when man forgets about man, we’re in trouble,” he says. “That’s what we’re supposed to do for each other.” Lagroon comes from a large family — he’s one of eight siblings — and often visits his hometown in South Carolina. He likes reading and working out in his free time, and is an avid history buff.
After coming to New York City in 1996, Lagroon zeroed in on security as the thing he wanted to get good at. He read books about security, took emergency management training classes and studied the field with an academic sense of purpose. “I’m trained in all of it,” he says. He got a job as supervisor at the Archdiocese of New York, then moved up and up the ladder. Now, he describes his title as “rover” since he’s capable of manning the front desk, filling in at the loading docks and everything in between. He uses those skills to look out for what he calls “my people”; that is, everyone who comes through the three buildings he oversees.
“Seeing a smile on their face, that’s what I enjoy most,” he says. “This is my family.”
GASPAR AMORIM: WINDOW CLEANER OF THE YEAR
Gaspar Amorim is a modern Renaissance man. A lover of history and politics and an active member of his Catholic church, Amorim brings a sense of gratitude and optimism to everything he does. For the past 17
years that has been cleaning windows at 3 Times Square. “Pretty much since the building was new,” he says. He has worked at office buildings like 1 Chase Plaza and 395 Wall Street. So far, 3 Times Square is his favorite. Home to large companies like Thomson-Reuters, the global mass media corporation that owns the building, Amorim’s workplace is surrounded by glowing neon signs and awe-struck tourists day and night. “It’s a privilege to work for these people,” he says.
Amorim’s job requires a high level of responsibility because of all the machinery and risk involved. He has to operate scaffolding and three rigs, and he says it can be scary, to a degree. But, over time, “you develop yourself and build your skills.” “Being a window washer’s got its own charms,” he says.
Amorim first came to New York City in 1965 from Portugal, following in his father’s footsteps. “My father was always in New York when he was a young man,” he says. Amorim now lives in Queens with his wife of 30 years. Their son works right around the corner from him at 5 Times Square, though they don’t cross paths as often as you might think. “Young people have really a good opportunity — politically, socially and even spiritually,” he says.
In his free time, Amorim loves watching sports, especially rooting for Portugal’s Benfica soccer team. He got into baseball upon coming to New York and became a Yankees fan after reading about their powerful legacy. He and his wife have also played on a local bowling team in his community.
“I like to do something where I live,” he says. “That’s what makes this country great, to be part of it. You could have your disagreements, but be involved.”
MIGUEL NEGRON: SCHOOL CLEANER OF THE YEAR
It’s evident that Miguel Negron loves his job, if for no other reason than his commute is three hours each way. He and his wife moved upstate to Wallkill, New York six years ago and run a small farm there, but Negron is so devoted to his job that he’s never even considered finding work closer to home. The commute is by far the only bad thing about working at P.S. 41 Greenwich Village Elementary School, where he has been a custodian for 20 years. Of his commute, Negron finds an upside. “I get to do a lot of studying,” for his upcoming custodian engineer exam. “I get to have the best of both worlds.”
Negron calls P.S. 41 his second home, and says when things are good at work they are good in the rest of his life. “I don’t mind going above and beyond because it benefits me spiritually,” he says. “And then when I go home what I left behind is good and I don’t have to worry about work.” Negron has driven through snowstorms to get to work, stopping on the side of the road to wipe off buried signage, but he says he would do anything for the kids at P.S. 41. “These are my kids,” he says.
He loves the hustle and bustle of schools and knows he has skills that are valuable, like listening and problem-solving. “I can contribute a lot besides just cleaning,” he says. He loves his coworkers and considers them family. They clearly feel the same way. Principal Kelly Shannon says she is fortunate to have gotten to know Negron. “The way he cares about what he does, he’s become part of the heart and soul of P.S. 41,” she said. Standing next to her, Negron wipes away tears.
Born and raised in New York City, Negron practically grew up in the industry. He uncle is a custodian, and his father worked as a custodian at a high school for 30 years. Now Negron is just as dedicated to his wife of seven years as he is to his job. When he gets home from work he makes sure she has her bath ready and her lunch for the next day. Together, Negron and his wife tend to their 26 chickens, cat, dog and birds. They also crochet, cook and watch reality shows in their shared time off.
CLIFF TISDALE: ELEVATOR OPERATOR OF THE YEAR
There used to be a lot more people doing Cliff Tisdale’s job. But though there are fewer of them now, elevator operators aren’t remotely extinct. And at places like the World Financial Center at 225 Liberty Street, which houses large companies like Oppenheimer and Bank of America, they remain a crucial part of the infrastructure.
Tisdale describes himself as “like a yoyo,” going up and down all day between the building’s 44 floors. “It seems easy, per se, but a lot of times you have people who don’t know where they’re going so you have to give direction,” he says. Sometimes that includes emergency service workers who need Tisdale’s help when responding to a situation in the building.
Tisdale’s worst day on the job was, without a doubt, September 11, 2001. Working just a block away from the World Trade Center, Tisdale watched people jump from the highest floors and plummet to the ground, then he watched the towers collapse. “I’ve got a vivid memory of the guy jumping out of the window and all you can see is his tie flapping,” he says. It’s something he’ll never forget. Since that day, Tisdale and his colleagues have been trained to watch for suspicious activity and serve as an additional layer of security.
But most days are good ones. “Every day you wake up is a good day,” he says. He’s even had a celebrity or two in his elevator: Venus and Serena Williams, for example, Bernie Williams of the New York Yankees and Steve Harvey of “Family Feud.” Tisdale has been working in the area long enough to see Lower Manhattan change drastically and, he says, for the better.
Tisdale was born in New York City but grew up partially in Florida, hanging out where his grandfather worked at the Kennedy Space Center. He came back to New York City in 1995 and started out cleaning dorms at New York University. He has worked as a porter, floor cleaner and security guard. He now lives in Brooklyn and spends his free time with his girlfriend and daughter and grandsons, coaching youth basketball and listening to Aretha Franklin.
“Right now I can’t see myself living any place else,” he says.
WILLIE HAWKINS: DOWNTOWN DOORMAN OF THE YEAR
Willie Hawkins has been at 270 Broadway since it was still under construction and he was the only doorman. But his connection to Lower Manhattan goes back much farther. Hawkins was assistant manager
during the evening shift at Windows on the World at the Twin Towers in 2001 and was supposed to be at work on September 11. He wasn’t. “We lost a total of 77 and I lost two from my staff,” he recalls, choking up.
To this day he doesn’t work on September 11, sometimes choosing to visit his son and two grandsons in Philadelphia.
In his 15 years at 270 Broadway, Hawkins has become a well-known face to the residents of its roughly 85 units, and he has grown close to most of them over the years. He is fond of the building’s atmosphere and its family-oriented feel. Hawkins is a veteran of the industry: Before coming to 270 Broadway he was a doorman on the Upper East Side.
He says there’s no hard part of his job when you love it as much as he does. Asked what the work is like day-to-day, he says, “fantastic.”
“I leave home to come home,” he says.
“This used to be work for me, now it’s an adventure.” He has seen three sets of twins born and raised under his watch.
Hawkins was born in Rochester, but moved to the city when he was 2. He considers himself a native city kid. He lives in the Bronx now, close to his mom.
He prizes visits with his two children and four grandchildren, going to comedy shows and traveling to Las Vegas, Florida, and Puerto Rico.
Hawkins’ 60- to 80-member extended family has been having annual summer barbecues in Manhasset State Park for the last 41 years.
He could see himself having a second home someday, maybe in North Carolina, but he says he’d never leave the city for good. “Too much quiet’s not good,” he jokes.
RON PIOQUINTO: SUPER OF THE YEAR
“Welcome, welcome, welcome!” Ron Pioquinto puts a lot of emphasis on being visible to the residents of 5-09 48th Ave. in Long Island City. With a smile that big, it’s not hard. It also helps to live in the building.
“People like to see your presence in your building,” he says. “As they’re walking by they’re saying ‘hey, I have an issue’ or ‘this is looking great.’”
Pioquinto starts every day with a 4-mile walk along the East River waterfront that he credits for drawing so many New Yorkers to Long Island City in recent years. Then he goes down to his office on the first floor to prep and to check emails. His office is crowded with blueprints, manuals, packing tape and Christmas cards from building families.
The rest of his day is spent doing walkthroughs at 5-09 48th Ave. and at another nearby building he manages, making himself available for anything residents may need. “My interests are theirs,” he says.
He speaks highly of all of his staff, which he helped pick out specifically to fit the building’s and residents’ personalities. “We have the best porters and handymen that you can possibly imagine,” he says.
The building is the second waterfront condo built in the area, and Pioquinto knew it would be crucial to put together the best possible team. “Then everyone else came as years went by,” he says.
Pioquinto has lived in other neighborhoods and boroughs, but something kept drawing him back to the building he helped open in 2008. Part of the appeal was the family-friendly, close-knit environment. His now-grown son was raised there and even worked part time as a doorman and porter when he was a teenager. His son, now a Marine living in California, recently got married and gave Pioquinto his first granddaughter.
Pioquinto was born in the South Bronx and raised by a mother who worked in civil service. He says he gets his work ethic from lessons she instilled. He was a facilities trainee for Con Edison during school and that’s when he was “exposed to the maintenance aspect of it.”
“It opened my eyes to this industry,” he says.
In his free time, Pioquinto goes fishing and bike riding, and roots for the Yankees and the Jets. “I like to do things that soothe my spirit,” he says. “If I’m healthy then my approach to the job is healthy.”
NOEL BROWN: OUTER BOROUGH RESIDENTIAL WORKER OF THE YEAR
Noel Brown serves as a handyman for a collection of buildings in the Bronx containing hundreds of units. Though that can seem overwhelming, Brown is methodical and diligent and never goes home until every tenant is taken care of. “If I have something I’m working on it’s hard for me to go home and get comfortable while the tenant is uncomfortable,” he says.
Tenants often call him for advice and in the event of an emergency — when their heat goes out or the smoke alarm is going off. “Sometimes on my days off they’re even calling me,” he says. “When they have problems they don’t know where to turn so they call me.” He calls it his duty to help them out.
Luckily, Brown has built friendly relationships with many tenants over his 16 years there. “I appreciate them and they appreciate me,” he says. “I respect everyone.” The hardest part of his job, Brown says, is all the walking between buildings and up and down the flights of stairs. But it keeps him fit, he says, and it focuses his mind. He was surprised to hear he’d won an award, but credits his patience with the tenants and “going the extra mile for them.”
Brown came to New York City from Jamaica in 1980 and now lives in the Bronx. “It’s a great city,” he says. “If you put out effort you can achieve anything.” He spent some time in plumbing before being introduced to the manager of his current buildings. He has a daughter and in his free time enjoys playing dominoes and going back to visit Jamaica.
ROMAY GARCIA: SCHOOL HANDYPERSON OF THE YEAR
For more than two decades Romay Garcia served his country overseas. Today, the Navy veteran is head custodian at Success Academy South Jamaica.
Garcia, 52, has worked at the school, at 120-27 141st St. in South Ozone Park, for 10 years.
Garcia grew up in Harlem during a time the borough was filled with drugs and crime. He had aspirations of being a doctor, but after attending Hunter College, he realized his best shot at getting out of the neighborhood was to enlist in the military.
He joined in 1988 and spent time in Italy, Spain and the Middle East. “I met a lot of good people who really love this country,” he said.
He left the Navy in 2008 and returned stateside, only to find himself in the throes of one of the country’s bleakest economic periods. In need of a job, a friend recommended him to the school. Things have been smooth sailing since. While the head custodian at a school is different than maintaining a vessel, Garcia loves the job.
He is closer to home, there’s less stress and, best of all, children greet him with a smile every day.
“I consider this job a service to my country,” Garcia said. “They (students) bring you that strength to continue.”
After being in the Navy, waking up at 4 a.m. is easy. In addition to keeping the school clean, he’s charged with making sure the heat works in the winter and the air conditioning in the summer.
“This job is like an extension to serve the community and the city of New York because students they are the future,” Garcia said. “The best part of the job is when I see the scholars moving to the next level.”
Garcia lives in the Bronx with his wife, Sandra, and their two kids.
While he acknowledged it is nice to be honored for his work, he wants veterans to receive better treatment.
“I just wish that those people that sacrificed their life for this country and their family should have better opportunities,” Garcia said.
ZAKIYY MEDINA: NEWARK AIRPORT WORKER OF THE YEAR
Zakiyy Medina has worked as a baggage handler at Newark Airport for three years and is privy to some of the hub’s coveted secrets. Asked if he’ll share any of them, he jokes, “it wouldn’t be a secret if I share it, right?”
Medina says the job, which involves taking luggage off of planes and making sure they get to the right carousels or final destinations, is mostly manageable. There are stressful periods,too, though, particularly “when we’re dealing with a lot of passengers.”
What with loud plane engines and multiple workers all whirring, things “become a little bit harder” without that crucial element — cooperation.
It just depends on the day. “You get used to being around a lot of people,” he says.
Though he didn’t have experience in the industry before he started the job, Medina says he catches on pretty quickly and now has a solid grip on the work. Airports are “like their own communities,” he says, and he has enjoyed learning about how they operate.
“It gives you a wider perspective on not just the people that you meet but how things work,” he says.
Medina was born and raised in New Jersey, where he still lives with his grandparents. In his free time, he likes making music and has a page on SoundCloud. He has aspirations of becoming a music producer, and as such is a diverse listener of everything from rock to jazz to hip hop. He’s working on building a website for his work.
Medina has participated in numerous political actions with the union to raise the minimum wage. He has attended Port Authority meetings, leadership meetings, and is especially grateful to have met elected officials such as Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.
His personal plea to travelers? Make sure your bags aren’t overweight.
CRISTIANA MENDEZ: LGA AIRPORT WORKER OF THE YEAR
What gets Cristiana Mendez up in the morning and keeps her going is the fact that she can provide for her family. She got her job cleaning at LaGuardia Airport in 2002 and has come to love the environment,
especially her coworkers. She particularly enjoys being around so many other Spanish-speakers.
Her days usually start around 6 a.m., when she begins by checking the bathrooms and then continues with regular maintenance of her assigned area. Mendez is responsible for the airport’s VIP lounges and says she often sees famous and important people. She occasionally deals with rudeness, which she attributes to stress caused by traveling. Mendez likes learning things about how the airport works and her job in general. She especially appreciates being recognized by her bosses and supervisors for her dedication.
Mendez lives in Queens but enjoys visiting Times Square. She’s grateful for her stable life in the city that has brought her so much opportunity. She spends her free time with family and friends and enjoys visiting Puerto Rico, where she was born and raised.
SEAN WILLIAMS: THE IDRISSA CAMARA AWARD
While Sean Williams wanted to be a cop when he was younger, and was employed at places such as Kmart, Bradlees and Lord & Taylor, he is proud to be where he is today.
Brooklyn resident Sean Williams worked in retail and restaurants for many years, and at the New York City Human Resources Administration.
Williams, 50, climbed the ladder of security at the Allied Universal Security Services building, at 320 Schermerhorn St. in Brooklyn. He started out as a security guard and, 14 years later, is a supervisor.
“I wanted something better,” Williams says. “I always wanted to be one (a supervisor) when I was a guard.”
His work ethic and his desire to provide for his family have always kept his motor going. Even when he dealt with rude people, he never let them get under his skin.
“I’ve been through the ups and I’ve been through the downs,” he says.
He recalled how people used to call him a clown cop and toy cop. That could have been a deterrent to some, but Williams persevered. He knew that to provide for his family, he needed to get a promotion. It was worth the effort, he says.
“I’ve earned to where I got now,” Williams says.
In addition to working close to his wife, Tasha, and eight children, Williams explains that it’s the people at work that really make it fun. He describes himself as friendly, always talking to colleagues and tenants and getting to know them.
Williams is a family man who enjoys movies, parties, going out to dinner. He is also a New York Yankees fan.
But there’s nothing more important in his life than being honorable and a good person.
“I’m a caring person,” he says. “I like to help people. I’m very thankful.”
ANGIE PERSON: JFK AIRPORT WORKER OF THE YEAR
Angie Person started working at JFK Airport in 2013. She is a cleaner at the sprawling Terminal 8, which is twice as big as Madison Square Garden. Nearly 13 million people pass through Terminal 8 every year. “I do the pilot room, the tower, and another part,” she says. “I thank God I’m working.” She has spoken at the state capitol in Albany four times about fair wages, among other things.
Person’s dedication to volunteer work also applies to her personal life. She can often be found at the library across from her apartment, where she reads to and entertains neighborhood kids. “I do a lot of work with little children,” she says. She also spends time at nearby soup kitchens. Before going to JFK she worked at the parks department for 18 years.
It’s evident from the toys stacked neatly around Person’s home that she dotes on her nine-year-old granddaughter, whom she calls “the mini-me.” The two go to plays together and take trips to Las Vegas to visit Person’s mom. She also enjoys spending time with her son. Person was born in North Carolina but raised in Brooklyn, where she still lives.