Custodians awarded for lighting up lives
Instead of lighting up the night, the Luminaria Awards will light up the faces of four appreciated members on the UNM janitorial staff.
The Office of Equity and Inclusion will have its first-ever Luminaria Awards Dinner tonight in the SUB, where the University will recognize the services of people who have gone above the call of duty in promoting diversity and support.
“There was a sentiment raised that some diversity efforts hadn’t been recognized to the degree that we should be recognizing them,” said Jozi De Leon, vice president of Equity and Inclusion.
De Leon said the department decided to find a way to acknowledge more members of the UNM community, including the evening janitorial team for the Castetter Hall, Marron Hall and the Communications and Journalism Building.
“They are a great representation of exactly what everyone around campus should be doing,” she said. “They take the time to get to know someone and they care about the success of others.”
The idea for Luminaria Awards came from UNM professor Maggie Werner-Washburne. She said the idea came to her during the holidays when she was walking down a street lined with luminarias.
“I realized that there were people all over UNM at all different levels,” Werner-Washburne said. “These people around campus that lighted other people’s lives, and got no recognition for it, so I thought of the Luminaria Awards.”
Werner-Washburne nominated her janitorial staff, but she also sent around the nomination to surrounding departments and found an enormous response.
The nomination received 20 co-nominations before reaching De Leon’s office.
“We have had this group of janitors for a long time. We know them; they know us,” she said. “These janitors are a key part of the success of the University.”
UNM custodian Phil Aragon said he already feels like part of the UNM community.
“They all know us as ‘the staff,’ or ‘the team,’ as we like to call ourselves,” he said. “And they’ve just incorporated us as part of their team, and we have started to become one big happy family.”
Aragon has been a janitor at UNM for 14 years. He said it started out like any other job until he got to know the people.
“You start to build acquaintances, some friendships,” he said. “In 14 years, you meet a lot of people and make a lot of friends.”
Aragon is one of four custodial staff members receiving the award. The others are Toby Lucero, Martin Jaramillo and Magdalena Vela. Werner-Washburne said each of them offers more than custodial services to the University.
“We pay these janitors, like, $10 an hour,” she said. “For that the University is getting their help cleaning. … But for $10 they provide security and they provide community.”
De Leon said the awards committee overwhelmingly accepted the nomination of the janitorial staff.
“They were highly ranked by everyone,” she said. “It was unanimous.”
De Leon said the awards would be celebrated with a silent auction, dinner and dance. The funds raised by the event will go to future diversity events put on by various departments on campus.
The dinner will be in the SUB Ballroom, starting with a silent auction at 5 p.m. De Leon said everyone is invited to attend.
Aragon said the janitors will be receiving a night of paid leave to attend the event.