Faces of UNBSJ: A glimpse into the life of . . .

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As university students, we have grown accustomed to seeing the same peers and professors day in and day out, getting to know them on an educational and personal level. But what about the other members of our little community who make our lives run smoothly?

In the run of a day we encounter several members of faculty and staff, such as cleaners, security guards, food service employees and secretaries, with whom we exchange pleasant conversation and polite hellos. Despite conversing with these individuals all semester, most of us don’t really know anything about them. This column is designed to rectify this unfortunate truth and give students the chance to know a little bit more about the very hands that keep our school spinning.

First on the docket is our beloved evening cafeteria lady, Helen Bryant. Bryant was born on Oct. 11 19?? (she encourages students not to guess the exact year) in Saint John and grew up in the South End where she attended Prince Charles School.

Picture taken by Ocean-Leigh Peters

Bryant came to work on campus in March 2006 when a friend recommended she apply for a job at Aramark. “I came out and applied and I was a kitchen bitch for a while, making sandwiches and working the deli,” says Bryant.

Eventually she was moved to the front of the house even though she had no experience on cash. Bryant didn’t know what she was doing, but learned quickly. “Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?” she says.

Bryant feels she has good relationships with the students who come through her cash every day, getting to know them little by little over the course of the school year. “I do the best I can to serve them well and I hope they’re happy with it because this is their home and I try to make them feel as welcome as possible,” says Bryant, “They are always really respectful towards me and I thank them for that.”

Food service has always been part of Bryant’s life and she has only ever worked in this industry. Her first and favourite job was working food prep at the old TB Hospital when she was only 16. “We were like one big happy family,” says Bryant.

“When I was growing up, jobs were a dime a dozen,” says Bryant, so she really didn’t have any aspirations for a particular career. Bryant explains that when she was younger her father was not the best example for hard work. “My father was a drinker and didn’t provide financially, but he was never abusive.”

Despite the presence of her father, Bryant’s mother, who was brought up in an orphanage and raised her children with authority, was a hard worker and taught Bryant that it’s important to work hard no matter what you do in life.

Over all Bryant says she didn’t have a bad childhood. “Life is what you make it and we never went without because my mother worked hard,” she says.

When she’s not working, Bryant likes to spend her time hanging out with three of her friends. “Just call us the Golden Girls,” she says. They like to go out on the town every now and then and just have fun, “within reason of course,” says Bryant.

Bryant also likes to spend time with her two children, Andrea and Christopher, whenever she can. “I also like to see my grandchildren when I have the chance,” say Bryant. She has two grandsons, Trentin, age three and Jaxon, age two.

Other than her children and grandchildren, Bryant doesn’t have any close family. Her parents are no longer living and her two brothers live far away and have no contact. “I don’t have much family around,” says Bryant, “so the students and Aramark are like my family.”

Over the years she has developed some great relationships with the people she works with and the students. What students may not know is that “I need you guys as much as you need me,” says Bryant.

Even though she works in the cafeteria and only sees students for a few minutes everyday, she can tell when they are having a hard time or are upset and wants to extend a hand to those who need it. “Life is a journey,” says Bryant, “and I’m here for you guys so don’t be afraid to come to me if you need to.”

Now that you know who Helen Bryant the cafeteria lady, really is, perhaps you can extend the conversation while waiting in line to pay for your food or better yet, get to know her even more.