Lionel Charles (center) is flanked by four local high school students he recruited to work part-time for BC Dining Service: (L-R) Cindy Paul, Layette White, Nesline Mondesire and Macarthur Pierre. (Photo by Justin Knight)
"Lionel has the Christmas spirit year-round," said Senior Functions Coordinator James Mastin, who has known Charles since he came to Boston College eight years ago. "I think he does a lot more for people here at BC than anyone knows about."
When Charles is not at work supervising the McElroy dishroom, he is talking with local high school guidance counselors to help him find students to work part-time for BC Dining Service. He estimates he has recruited 50 Boston-area teens to assist the professional staff as dishwashers, food servers and dining room attendants.
"Teens who don't have jobs or don't have anywhere to go after school tend to get in trouble," said Charles. "So I want to help them."
The experience has benefited many of those students who have gone on to college or better jobs, according to Charles.
"That is why you help people: to help them better themselves," said Charles, a native of Haiti well known for helping his immigrant co-workers with their transition to life in the United States.
As Charles sees it, he is only repaying the kindness a Jesuit from BC once showed him. While in Haiti, he worked as an aide to American missionary groups and came to know Rev. Robert Braunreuther, SJ, a former BC Athletic Association chaplain and Theology Department faculty member who had visited the country regularly through a program organized by Campus Ministry.
Later, Charles immigrated to the United States and worked in a Boston-area hospital before coming to BC to seek out a better job. While walking across campus he crossed paths with his old friend, Fr. Braunreuther, who has since left the University.
"I knew he was here, but it was by chance that we met again," recalled Charles, still grateful to the priest who helped him find a job with Dining Service.
Charles, who praises the Dining Service managers and their support, says his efforts on behalf of the Boston teenagers requires a great deal of responsibility on their part.
"The first thing we tell them is that if they aren't in school, then they can't work here," said Charles. "Their school work comes first."
For Charles, those students have become his second family.
"If a kid is having some problems in the classroom or in his life, I think it is my job to talk to them and get them some help."
As a way to share the holidays with his charges, Charles hosts the annual Christmas party in his Dorchester apartment.
Charles has also been known to help co-workers recently arrived from other countries. He often gives driving lessons to those who need to acquire driver's licenses and helps them navigate the bureaucratic waters of the Registry of Motor Vehicles and the Social Security Administration.
He also helps new employees set up checking accounts and offers his assistance and experience when there are problems with the immigration and naturalization process.
"There is a lot of paper work and it can be difficult to understand," said Charles. "So I try to help."
Recently, it is Charles who has been getting a helping hand. With the assistance of Mastin and other friends, he has been working to bring his wife, Claire, and their two children from Haiti to join him in the US.
"At this point the paper work has gone through to Haiti and we're waiting to hear back," said Mastin.
He said that Charles is hoping to have his family in Boston for Christmas.
"In many ways, Lionel is what BC is all about," said Mastin. "He's what the Christmas spirit is all about."
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