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Safety First: Facilities Prioritizes Well-being at Mercy Home, Ep. 5 of Around Our Home Podcast

Safety First: Facilities Prioritizes Well-being at Mercy Home, Ep. 5 of Around Our Home Podcast

– Welcome to Around our Home. A show about the impact Mercy Home for Boys & Girls has on kids and families in need in the Chicago community. Each episode, you’ll hear informative interviews as well as supportive tips and strategies that you can use in your daily life to become a happier healthier version of yourself. This is Around our Home. I’m Christine Nikolich. My guest today is Damien Douglas, a maintenance engineer at our West Loop Campus and a member of our facilities department. The coworkers in facilities have countless responsibilities that keep our campus clean and safe but the most important aspect of their job most recently is maintaining cleanliness at Mercy Home during the pandemic. Hey Damien, thanks so much for joining me today.

– No problem.

– Can you describe what your role at Mercy Home looked like before COVID-19?

– So before COVID our work consist of taking care of any issues or problems that arise within Mercy, dealing with the maintenance of it. So whether it be plumbing, electrical, HVAC, dry walling, you name it we’ve pretty much just about done it all. No two days are the same, honestly.

– So what does your typical day look like? I know you said it’s different every day but do you kind of just get assignments as you come in or how does that all work?

– Yeah, so when we first get in, we check in with Alvin and Melvin to go over what the day is gonna look like and if we got work orders, then we’ll start bringing out whatever work orders have been submitted from the night before or that morning of and if there’s no work orders, then we tend to other outstanding projects that we’ve had going on at Mercy.

– Can you explain some of those outstanding projects?

– Yeah. A prime example would be like the work we’ve done up in MercyWorks. It’s been completely remodeled and redone which is a project that we’ve been wanting to do for quite some time but just because of how much stuff was going on, we never had the time to actually do it and because we always had people living in MercyWorks at the time, and this allowed us some time to get a lot of those projects done.

– How did you become a facilities worker at Mercy Home?

– So actually I started out working overnight security at girls’ campus and then a position opened up at facilities, and I jumped on that at the first opportunity I had. I was previously doing maintenance work and stuff like that as side work with a buddy of mine. And this is what the exact type of field that I wanted to work in. Working with my hands, I enjoy it and Mercy is fulfilling that.

– That’s awesome. What do you like most about your job at Mercy Home?

– Just the reward I get from fixing something. A prime example is like when we have something going wrong with the HVAC units on the roof, whether it be summer time or winter time, and you get up there and you know that something’s not right and you’re trying to diagnose and troubleshoot and look for every potential issue that you can think of that would cause a problem. And then when you finally figure out and you get that aha moment, that’s it. That’s what makes it all worth it. Yes, finally I figured out. I got it and it’s such a rewarding feeling knowing that you figured something out. You fixed the problem and made the people around you comfortable or made the situation better.

– I bet that’s so satisfying.

– It really is. Cause there’s really nothing quite like it or the sensation of building something.

– How does your job impact the kids?

– Well I mean, our job is we’re in the business of comfort. First and foremost our job is to make sure that the people; the youth, the employees and the people who are inside this facility are comfortable at all times. Whether it be air conditioned, heated, making sure that the facility around those people is safe and it extends to the programs as well. Like making sure that the programs are in the best shape that they are for the kids to hopefully produce a better environment for them.

– Ever since I started working at Mercy Home, a couple of years ago, I’ve always felt at home and safe. I appreciate just you making sure that it’s safe for the kids and the coworkers.

– I mean, that’s the thing. Those are things that we don’t… They’re luxuries that we take for granted. Having running water or proper electrical or HVAC and heat and air conditioning. All those things are like… A lot of people don’t have those. So for us to be able to have those things and have them consistently working is a must and something that we strive for every day.

– How does your role in facilities contribute to helping kids in need besides general building maintenance?

– Honestly, I think our job is very educational because if you stand back and you watch what we’re doing, I observe and I work around with the kids and they are attentive and they are looking at things that we are doing when we’re in programs and we’re fixing the sink. Whether it’s clogged or if we’re replacing carpet tiles or if we change the light bulbs, they are picking up on that information and the more you see it and the more you’re around it, you’ll start to pick up those … You’ll notice those things and, okay well, I saw the guys at facilities, does the sinker stopped up. So they took a plunger and they tried plunging a couple of times. It makes you feel like you can attempt it yourself, which we all can. Everyone’s capable of doing the things that we do in facilities. It just takes time. That’s all.

– I feel like those day-to-day life skills are so important to learn at an early age cause you don’t learn that kind of thing in school.

– No, and it’s honestly it’s a shame that they don’t teach more of these life skills in school. How to change a tire, knowing the difference between a hot and neutral or electrical. Just those are basic things that people should understand.

– I don’t know either of those things. I’ve never changed a tire by myself. I feel like I… Can you teach me?

– Yeah, I’ve been taught that. It takes a couple of bolts. It’s quick. It’s easy.

– So can you relate to the kids who live at Mercy Home?

– Everybody has done not the greatest things in their life when they’re younger and for a while, I could have been very well down the same path that so many other kids have gone down but looking to the people around me and having a good support system straightened me away from much more dangerous things and I think a lot of that is what the kids at Mercy are getting. They need that type of support system. They need people around them who are gonna show them that there are better things than what they see on TV or better things than what they hear about in the news. There is so many things that these kids can become.

– How did your role change after the crisis?

– Things have gotten more difficult since COVID has been around. You would think with less people in the building things would necessarily get easier but somehow it’s managed to get more difficult. But I think for most people COVID has been a majority of a mental battle more than a physical.

– How are you involved in making the home safe for our kids after the stay-at-home order?

– We set up quarantine zones up on the third floor of Fr. Close and the Noha program and then we have guys like James and Caesar who consistently spray in the programs. As far as trying to keep everyone safe, we’ve upped, we’re changing the filters more often. Make sure that there’s currently clean air running through the place as much as possible. Kind of make sure all surfaces are constantly clean. We put up hand sanitation stations all over Mercy. There’s no shortage of places to clean your hands at Mercy. So we are being proactive and taking a ton of different steps to make sure that Mercy Home stays as safe as possible.

– Personally, how are you feeling about being labeled as an essential worker?

– The job that I have was essential before COVID and it will be essential after COVID. HVAC, plumbing, electrical, whatever the day entails, it’s mandatory for us to get our things done. I take my job serious and I’m here to get my job done regardless of whatever the title is.

– You’re one of the few departments who really interacts with everyone. What has it been like to work with every department as part of your job?

– Honestly, I like it. We meet so many different people, we talk to so many different people on a daily basis. No days feel the same. Every day is different and it’s nice. There’s a familiarity that comes with seeing everyone which has been lost since COVID.

– What is something unique to Mercy Home that you probably wouldn’t see at other places?

– Honestly just that family dynamic. Being in here, you know everyone and literally everyone. You know them cause you talk to them, you see them every day. Whereas like a lot of other places it seems very segregated between departments whereas at Mercy Home it’s very open. Everybody talks to everybody, everybody communicates with everyone. So it feels a lot closer and a lot smaller than it is even though we’re a decently sized company. Mercy Home feels very small because we know everyone there.

– I agree, yeah. I do feel like everyone’s super friendly at Mercy Home and even though I work in a small department, I do feel like I know most people that work there which is kind of rare.

– Yeah, exactly. Everybody talks to everybody here. You don’t see that anywhere else. I’ve never seen it anywhere else where everybody is nice and everyone is honestly kind to everyone they work with.

– It does really feel like a family.

– Yeah and I think more companies need to have that dynamic.

– Is there a project that you can tell us about where you could see the impact on a kid after it was finished?

– We used to have a former youth here. He’s seen such growth since he first started here and the relationship that he’s built with facilities between the four of us; me, Melvin, Brian, and Alvin it’s just crazy. It really is crazy to see the impact that we have. I don’t treat the kids as though they’re kids. To me they’re all young adults and they’ve all got their own set of issues or problems that they’re dealing with and going through just like the rest of us. So I wouldn’t necessarily say there was a particular project but I think our daily involvement inside the programs and being around the kids definitely changes… It changes something I know. Completely understand better what we’re doing and why we’re doing the things that we do when they see us in the programs. Cause definitely we are all friendly guys and we have no problem explaining and breaking things down to people so that they can understand.

– Have you ever thought of maybe doing a day of training with the kids? Showing them simple day-to-day tasks that they could learn that would help them in their adulthood?

– Honestly I would like to. I would have no problem with doing something like that. I think that would be fantastic for a lot of these kids. I think a lot of these kids here would be perfect for the trades. Honestly it’s hard work, determination and making sure that you’re gonna do whatever you gotta do to get job done at the end of the day. No ifs, ands, or buts about it and a lot of these kids have that exact same mindset. That same go-getter attitude and it’s just that it’s not being applied in the right space. I don’t know another job that’s like this that can give you this type of… Or at least for me. I don’t know of any other job that brings this type of enjoyment.

– That’s great. That’s so good to hear that you love your job so much. How hard is it to maintain spaces that have so many moving parts? Since we’re an office, we have a gym, we have a cafeteria it’s also a home, how hard is it to maintain all of those things?

– That can be sometimes the biggest… Honestly our biggest struggle is honestly just trying to find the time where we can either not have people in a specific area. I mean, that’s with COVID, we’ve been able to fix all those issues. Timing was error. It still is everything. Finding the time where we can get in to where we need to be and get the things that we need done is always the hardest part. Trying not to either disturb someone else’s workflow so we can get our own work done.

– It sounds like you don’t have enough time in the day to do everything.

– No, there’s never enough time and there’s always something to do. So with the eight hours or however long the day is, we get the most amount of work done we can within that a lot of time.

– Do you work odd hours or do you work normal nine to five hours?

– For the most part, very much set on my schedule. 7:00 to 3:30 Monday through Friday unless I’m on call for the month which we do a rotating schedule of.

– Since we are a home and we’re running 24/7 do you ever respond to repairs in the middle of the night?

– Oh I mean we have. Like in the winter time. If one of the units on a roof go down, you gotta come in. You gotta come in and you gotta get a fixed because we gotta have heat in the bedrooms for the kids and making sure that the kids are safe and comfortable. So stuff like that, we don’t really have an option. We’ve gotta get here. We gotta get it done no matter what it takes. So your question of the word essential, everyone’s essential. Everyone’s job is just as equally important. It’s weird. We get like this… I don’t know. In facilities it’s like we get a lot of praise but our jobs are no more important than anyone else’s job here. The only reason we’re able to do our jobs is because of the work that everyone else does.

– Well, I wanna thank you so much for joining me today. This was really interesting to learn about and yeah. Thank you so much for keeping our home and our kids safe. I really appreciate it.

– It’s a group effort and everybody’s doing their part. So I’m just another piece in the mix.

– Thanks for listening to Around our Home. Special thanks to our guest Damien, for his knowledge about facilities and willingness to share his experiences as a maintenance engineer at Mercy Home for Boys & Girls. Be sure to visit mercyhome.org/podcast to join the conversation, access to show notes and read more about what’s going on around our home, on our blog. Don’t forget to follow us on social media, by searching @mercyhome. If you have any questions, please email us at info@mercyhome.org. Please like, subscribe and share this podcast with your colleagues, friends and family. Mercy Home for Boys & Girls is a solution for kids in crisis and we hope this podcast will motivate you to support our mission. My name is Christine Nikolich and this is Around our Home.

Welcome to Around Our Home Podcast, a show about the impact Mercy Home for Boys & Girls has on kids and families in need in the Chicago community. Each episode you’ll hear informative interviews, as well as supportive tips and strategies that you can use in your daily life to become a happier, healthier version of yourself.

#5 – Safety First: Facilities Prioritizes Well-being at Mercy Home

In this episode, Christine Nikolich interviews Damien Douglas, a maintenance engineer at our West Loop Campus and a member of our facilities department. The coworkers in facilities have countless responsibilities that keep our campus clean and safe, but the most important aspect of their job most recently has been maintaining cleanliness at Mercy Home during the pandemic.

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