For Service Award Winner, BC Is One 'Big Family'

For Service Award Winner, BC Is One 'Big Family'

By Stephen Gawlik
Staff Writer

When he first arrived at Boston College in 1994 from his native Haiti, Dishroom Supervisor Lionel Charles thought he should do something to thank the University for making him a part of its "big family," he says.

As it turned out, he helped the University to extend its family ties even farther.

Dishroom Supervisor Lionel Charles. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Working in the dishroom in McElroy Commons, Charles realized BC's dining service operation could use regular, reliable help. Meanwhile, having settled into his Dorchester neighborhood, Charles began to notice a number of high school students hanging around on street corners and in subway stations with nothing to do.

"It was easy to see that BC needed help, and the students needed jobs, so I did what I could," recalled Charles.

With the assistance and approval of Boston College Dining Service managers, Charles began recruiting those students, offering them part-time jobs as well as his friendship and guidance.

In recognition of Charles' outreach to young people and to his other foreign-born BC co-workers, University President William P. Leahy, SJ, presented him with the 2002 Boston College Community Service Award at a special dinner yesterday in the Heights Room of the Lower Campus Dining Hall.

"When I received the letter from Fr. Leahy saying I had been chosen, I was very surprised," said Charles. "I'd never heard of [an award] like that. I am very thankful."

Charles' colleagues say they are thankful, too.

"I wish we could take his attitude toward working with others and clone it," said Dining Service Director Patricia Bando. "He's become a leader among his peers in Dining Service."

Bando said that Charles' successful recruitment efforts in recent years have been a factor in keeping BCDS facilities fully staffed and operating smoothly.

"It's important to have a work force we can depend on and Lionel has helped make that happen," she said.

"You can't say enough about what Lionel Charles gives to Boston College," said Senior Functions Coordinator James Mastin, who has known Charles since he first arrived at BC. "I think he would do just about anything for anyone here and never ask for anything in return."

Charles estimates that in his eight years at BC he has recruited more than 50 Boston area teenagers to assist the professional staff as dishwashers, food servers and dining room attendants. During the school year, Charles spends time each week meeting with local high school guidance counselors in the hopes of finding students to work as BCDS employees.

"At first it was more difficult, because I didn't know any of the counselors and they didn't know me," said Charles.

As his rapport with the school representatives grew, Charles says, they were quick to suggest potential candidates for dining service jobs. But as Charles points out, the high school kids are made to understand that the jobs do come with strings attached.

"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."

Those students who live up to the challenge find in Charles a friend and a mentor, who throws them a Christmas party each year in his own apartment.

The experience of working at BC has benefited many student workers, who have gone on to college or better jobs, according to Charles.

"Teens who don't have jobs or don't have anywhere to go after school will get in trouble," said Charles. "If some trouble happens in the neighborhood these kids won't be a part of it, because they are here working.

"That is why you help people: to help them better themselves," said Charles. "If a kid is having some problems, I want to do everything I can to help."

Charles' acts of kindness also include assisting his immigrant co-workers with their transition to life in the United States. He typically offers them driving lessons, assistance in dealing with the Registry of Motor Vehicles and the Social Security Administration, or advice for clearing hurdles in the immigration and naturalization process.

Recently, Charles received some assistance himself from others in the BC community. In April, his wife Clermanie and 3-year-old daughter Shanyka immigrated to Boston from Haiti after a series of lengthy delays. Several Boston College administrators had a hand in helping Charles reunite his family.

"It's a difficult enough process even when English is your native tongue," said Mastin, who assisted Charles and learned how complicated paperwork can seem when English is a second language. "We're lucky it all worked out."

For Charles, interviewed last week in the midst of a lengthy work week preparing for the University's Commencement Exercises and related year-end functions, receiving an award for community service seemed to add to his list of responsibilities.

"There is so much going on now. I'm going to have to see who needs a ride home from the [awards] dinner."


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