Barbara D’Alvia is a server in Brewer Dining Hall.
My day starts with a long bus ride from my home in South Jackson to Union’s campus. When I arrive, I begin prepping—my least favorite work. It’s my least favorite because it happens before the students arrive. The greatest thing about working at Union is the time I get to spend with students.
As I get older and deal with all that involves—complicated family relationships and just the reality of aging—I’m blessed to be able to spend my time around people who are forever young. It’s hard to get close to people, just through the normal day-to-day conversations you have in Cobo, and then see them graduate. But I would much rather take that chance.
I make and serve food, which involves a lot of repetition and monotony, but the real magic in a job like this is not the work itself—it’s the people the work puts you in contact with. I can’t stand solitary work. I once had to paint houses for a living, and while I loved the Florida breeze and the vibrancy of life in Miami, I was discouraged by the silence. All I could hear was the sound of my paint being rolled onto a wall. Here, I am always around people who are full of hope because their stories are not yet written. They come from everywhere, and they could go any number of places when they leave.
If I could go anywhere, it would be back to Puerto Rico where I was born to an African-American man and a beautiful Puerto Rican woman. They brought me to Miami where my own story would unfold. Miami is where I fell in love, got my first job and raised four beautiful children. I stayed home to care for them and now as I grow older, they care for me. They sent me to Tennessee to be near my youngest, and although I miss my biological children dearly, the students here have become my children too.
Union is the only place I’ve worked and stayed at for years, and it’s because of the kids. They treat me so good. Monday is my favorite day because on Monday all the kids come in to eat, and I get to see everybody. Their smiles are the highlight of my day.
I like to think of myself as the cafeteria mom. I like to imagine the lives the students will lead when they leave here to begin their own stories. Some of them will go on to walk hard paths, and some will go on to do great things. I like to think that when they remember Union, I will be one of the things they remember. For me, each individual face is unforgettable. I hope that I am a part of their stories, which are just beginning, just as they are a part of mine, now many chapters long.
The afternoons between working are long, but my mornings are filled with expectancy as I begin prepping food in an empty cafeteria before the sun comes up. My day ends with wiping down tables and a bus ride back to South Jackson. As I stare out the window, I don’t feel like I am heading home. Union is my home, and the students are my children.