May 8, 2023

Felecia Harris, a custodian in the Site Services Division, has been at Berkeley Lab for five years. Felecia is a lifelong learner and has taken multiple college classes over the past ten years in different subjects, with a favorite subject being literature. She plans to complete the few classes she has left for her Associate in Arts degree in literature in the future. Felecia also volunteers at the Oakland Museum of California once a month, which allows her to give back and to learn about new and exciting new exhibits. 

Recently Felecia sat down with Elements to share her thoughts on the importance of her role, her love of learning, and what she likes most about the Lab.

What brought you to Berkeley Lab?

I worked in a hospital as an environmental services staff member in a critical care unit for 18 years, and I was ready for a change. Critical care is where patients from the emergency room go, and it was an interesting job that was both sad and joyful. Your emotions are part of the job in the health field, so I started to feel burnt out and began to search for a change. That led me to Berkeley Lab.

What do you like about working at the Lab?

Well, I have a few things. I like being able to move about freely and not be confined in one area like I was at the hospital. This job takes me to different places around the Lab where I can build positive relationships with colleagues. We share conversations and laughter. I enjoy meeting people from different parts of the country or the world because it's an opportunity to see how much we're alike and what we can learn from one another. It is one of the things that keeps me coming back.

What are some things that people may misunderstand about being a custodian?

That's a good question. There are many misconceptions. One is that all we do is clean. I take pride in that part of my job, but I also want people to understand we have families and interests outside of work. I see myself as part of the environmental team, disinfecting and maintaining a safe place to work. When I was working at the hospital, I referred to my job as environmental services. We disinfected the environment to prevent people from getting sick. 

People may also not know that there is certification for custodian work. I took a training course to learn the fundamentals of being a custodian and received a certificate of completion. I’ve been a certified custodian for the past several years. I have always known that I am an essential worker, and the pandemic made it official. 

Have you seen a change in how people perceive you and your colleagues since the pandemic?

To be honest, no. [The pandemic] was tough. We have families too. When we were chosen to have to come to work, I appreciated it, but it was scary. 

The country as a whole doesn’t understand how important custodians are. It's people like custodians that keep a place clean and safe for work. I know that there are people who will never appreciate what I do. Not so much noticing me, but noticing the importance of the job itself. There are some people who appreciate what I do, and they thank me. Building 71, (ATAP Division) is my work family. It is a pleasure and an opportunity to work there as a custodian and a team player.

You have been a mentor as well, haven’t you?

It was part of my journey when I was employed at the hospital. It was about venturing out and making myself more relevant. I wanted to share my experiences with other people who might be starting their journeys. I went to an organization to speak about my journey and why I thought my job was so important. I spoke with students who had been incarcerated, or who didn't graduate from high school, or who had faced adversity in their lives. I felt honored to give back to the community.