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Collier Elementary custodian Terris McQueen won a MCPSS dedication award for his tenacity in managing to get to work despite having no vehicle.
Collier Elementary’s Terris McQueen is the antithesis of what he used to think of local school custodians when he was growing up, which is why he didn’t think he’d like the job when he took it about a year and a half ago.
“I like (my job),” McQueen said of being a school custodian. “At first I didn’t think I’d like it because when I was in school I’d see the custodians and they all just looked like they hated their jobs. Doing it, though, I have actually found a connection.”
With his upbeat demeanor and smiling face, it was hard for his coworkers and boss — Principal Michelle Shropshire — to detect that McQueen endured a struggle every day to even get to work. It was his commitment to getting to work despite the challenges that convinced Mobile County Public Schools to give McQueen a dedication award at its annual ceremony on Thursday, May 2.
Without reliable transportation, McQeen counted on his aunt to take him to and from his home near the corner of Emogene and Florida streets in Midtown to the school on Snow Road. He said he showed up late one day and realized he would have to make a change.
“It got to the point where I told myself I wasn’t going to rely on anyone else to get to work,” he said.
McQueen began riding a bike from his home to the school, which took longer than an hour.
“No one knew Terris was riding a bike to school,” Shropshire said. “He did it quietly. All I knew was he was getting to work on time.”
All in all, McQueen said he went through three bikes in the year or so he was forced to traverse the city on two wheels.
On the several days the bikes needed to be fixed, he would take the four-hour walk to his job in West Mobile, waking at 4:30 a.m. and hitting the road at 5 a.m. in order to make it to the school by 9:30 a.m.
“I walked, but it wasn’t often,” he said. “The only time I walked was when the bike broke down.”
As he would make the trek back and forth, parents and community members began to take notice, Shropshire said. At least three different groups had secretly offered to help McQueen purchase a vehicle when he bought a 2005 Nissan.
“Several members of the community wanted to help buy a car,” Shropshire said. “Three different groups said they’d be willing to help.”
In the end, it was a car dealer who had watched McQueen take his bike back and forth to work who helped him with the car purchase. A day or so after getting the car, McQueen’s bike was stolen. Shortly after that, the car broke down, leaving the custodian walking again to work, at least temporarily.
Shropshire said McQueen’s work ethic and dedication is an important addition to the school community.
“Terris works on the fifth-grade hallway,” she said. “These kids seem him; he’s a role model for them. Those kids love him.”
McQeen said his mother, who died when he was 9 years old, told him to take the word “can’t” out of his vocabulary. It was that determination that served as a driving force for him as he grew older and started his own family.
“She told me to try my best to get where I needed to go,” he said. “I never said I couldn’t do it.”
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