By Fatoumata Fadiga
Carmela Macchia, 59, has been employed at Purchase College for 21 years. When she applied for the custodian position at the college, she was rejected twice and got accepted at the third round. Macchia has since worked in almost every building on campus but has spent the majority of her time working in the Humanities Building.
Macchia was born in Naples, Italy and when she was younger, she and her sisters used to work at her family’s farm from sunrise to sunset. “Sometimes my feet were swollen from long standing,” said Macchia. “Having a job doesn’t make me impotent. In fact, it gives me courage, and that courage is what makes me move forward.”
From her quiet kindness, inspiring work ethic, and deep commitment to the Purchase College community, Macchia has impacted the Humanities Building’s staff with her compassion and calming humor. Aviva Taubenfeld, the director of the Humanities Department, said, “When my father was ill, she checked in with me every day, offering me encouragement and support. She treats everyone, similarly, sharing a warm smile and uplifting words.”
Macchia believes that teaching and learning should take place in a respectful environment. So, she pushes herself every day to create a pristine, and suitable setting. Taubenfeld said, “When everyone left because of COVID-19, she set to work on straightening classrooms, tidying offices, cleaning bathrooms, and reporting any problems she cannot fix herself.”
Macchia's dedication doesn’t change even in the worst weather on campus. During winter break she could be found scrubbing down the walls in the hallway to wipe out the dirt left by touching the wall. “I hadn’t noticed that they were dirty, but she rightly pointed out that students often run their hands along the walls as they walk, leaving a line about four feet up from the floor,” said Taubenfeld.
However, in the spring and summer, Macchia could be found washing the windows after the lawn is mowed outside the building. Taubenfeld said, “She noticed that grass sticks to the lower-level windows, and she refused to leave it there. She is an absolute perfectionist and quietly insists on the highest standards for the building.”
Macchia's husband passed away in the past few months and she herself became ill with COVID. For two months, Macchia joggled between health issues and the loss of her husband and stopped working as a result.
“My life has become unstable but thank God the insurance covers the medical care,” said Macchia. After being trapped in bed for months she returned in the midst of COVID-19, because her husband's death left her to have more burdensome responsibilities.
“You know, if I stay inactive my life will be inactive, so I kept working,” she said.
The Humanities building is a refuge for Macchia even though the work is challenging for two custodians, just Macchia and her co-worker. The peace and respect she got working in the building has made her grief more bearable.
“When I am in the building, I forget all the negative stuff because everyone treats me with respect,” She said. “And I am here because I feel respected by them and I love serving them.”
In 2020, Macchia received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Classified Service.
Macchia's deep motivation is not only limited to the maintenance of the building, but also on the maintenance of the plants inside. When the school shut down, almost no people were on campus, but Macchia was there. She described the plants as a symbol of “hope and persistence.” The plants could possibly fade and die but she kept watering and fertilizing them.
Macchia said, “When I see the trees growing, I feel energetic and happy because this is my home and is a peaceful place for me.”
Instead of returning to a desolate building filled with dead plants, employees returned to thriving plants and the feeling of normalcy. Nothing had changed, including Macchia’s smile and generosity. Taubenfeld said that by keeping the plants alive and the flowering blooming, Macchia “gave us all hope.”
Macchia is really concerned about the mess happening in the restroom. The toilet used to have a sensor that made it flush by itself, but now it has a small black button that has to be pushed in order to flush. However, some don’t bother doing so. Macchia stoically removes her gloves and then pushes the dot.
She said, “Sometimes I feel sorry for myself, but I need to do it, I’m here for this. I clean 13 bathrooms every day.”
Macchia oversees the daily assignments and helps to train new custodial staff temporarily placed on assignments within the building.