Custodian takes on motherly role to students

After 21 years of working at the Boca campus, Yolene Joseph still makes it a point to look out for students.


Within her house’s newly renovated kitchen, Joseph stirs a pot on her stove. Brandon Harrington | Staff Photographer

Joe Pye, News Editor

While walking through the Student Union on the Boca campus, you may see her cleaning the glass doors, the tables, the water fountains or maybe picking up the Snickers wrapper you just dropped on the floor — but odds are, she’s smiling while doing it.

This September marks the 21st year that Yolene Joseph has been a custodial employee at Florida Atlantic. Working on and off since 1995, she has developed a second family at her first job since coming to this country in 1992.

Joseph was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and moved to the Bahamas in 1984 to study cosmetology and start a family. After two years, she could not return home after the Haitian coup of 1991, but also could not stay in the Bahamas because of discriminatory laws passed by Bahamian Prime Minister Sir Lynden Pindling.

“My mom, dad and brother all died in the early 1990s,” said Joseph. “The military killed many Haitians during the Haitian coup d’etat of 1991.”

Her husband Martine Lasseur gave her his U.S. work visa, and she left for America with her oldest daughter Astride and son Awince, while also pregnant with her youngest daughter Ashley.

Their marriage did not last, and shortly after claiming residence in Miami, Florida, she was a single mother of three children without any work experience.

After moving to Pompano Beach in search of work to support her family, she took a job at the university.

“I love FAU. Sometimes you find a job that is your future, for me FAU was my future,” said Joseph. “It was my first time working in my life, before coming here I was a housewife.”

Originally working for an outsourced company in the library, she took care of custodial duties on every floor, but was unable to earn more than $5.50 an hour. Her hours were then cut even further, making her situation worse.

Joseph wipes off the sinks in one of the bathrooms in the Student Union while making her rounds. Patrick Delaney | Photo Editor
Joseph wipes off the sinks in one of the bathrooms in the Student Union while making her rounds. Patrick Delaney | Photo Editor

“I was only getting paid $173 every two weeks,” said Joseph. “It was a tough time for me, I didn’t have enough to pay my bills.”

The supervisor of the Student Union contacted her and offered her a position to work in the building full time in 1996.

“The Student Union looked so different back then, the cafeteria wasn’t there … Outtakes was where the ping pong tables are,” she said. “All there was at FAU was land and trees.”

There was so much land and open space that Joseph learned how to drive at the Boca campus.

Working Monday through Friday from noon to 8 p.m., she keeps herself busy by making her rounds through the upstairs offices, the bathrooms, the Carole and Barry Kaye Performing Arts Auditorium, the Military and Veteran’s Affairs Office and the Live Oak Pavilion. While cleaning, she occasionally stops to talk with students she knows in the offices and clubs.

“I love my kids, I look forward to seeing them everyday,” said Joseph. “Everyone in the office tries to see me, because I am always here.”

Her “kids” are mainly the student employees working in the Student Union offices and groups like FAU’s chapter of Konbit Kreyol — an organization that was created in 1990 to educate the students about Haitian culture.

“Yolene is so wonderful, she’s very caring,” said Conserline Viccana, a senior health administration major and Konbit Kreyol member. “She always keeps up with us and asks how everything is going in our lives.”

Student Government Vice President Juliana Walters began noticing Joseph’s positive disposition and affection toward everyone in the office during her sophomore year in 2014.

“I started seeing her around when I was spending late nights in office,” Walters said. “She would come by and clean, always have a smile on her face and ask about my day. She was the positive, enlightening aspect of certain stressful days.”

When Walters became vice president, she had to move offices and was surprised by something Joseph did for her.

“When I went to set up my new VP office, there was some stuff in a box that I transferred over … She went to show me my office and how she put my pictures up for me,” Walters said. “It’s the little touches that people appreciate.”

Student Government invited Joseph to its annual banquet last semester and Walters was happy to see a familiar face when she was sworn into office.

“My favorite memory of Yolene at school, was seeing her at the SG banquet that I was sworn in at,” Walters said.  “It’s kind of a revolving door in SG, with student advisers and staff. Seeing one person who was there from the start, who is happy to see me succeed is very comforting.”

Junior English major Coral Undzis was struggling to find her place at FAU when she first started working in the Student Union in the summer of 2015.

“When I first came here, I didn’t have a good experience dealing with different staff members and making connections,” Undzis, a work study student, said. “She was so friendly to me, it helped open me up to making more positive connections here. She kept checking on me and has always treated me like a friend. Once she has met you, she will never forget you.”

The custodial supervisor of the Student Union, Anthony Moschetti, has been working with Joseph since 2003. He evaluates his employees annually, and has to point out both their positive traits and the areas that could use improvement.

“She’s a good worker, she’s very dependable and good with people and the students,” said Moschetti. “She may have a tendency to get away from her work, but she’s been here long enough, she knows what to do and all of her experience makes up for it.”

He said that he has always noticed her way with students and faculty members and that everyone sees her as a motherly figure.

“The students seem to confide in her, she listens to them and always has her ears open for them,” Moschetti said. “She’s just always been like this, you can’t change the stripes on a tiger.”

“She’s a good woman and she wouldn’t hurt a fly. I don’t think she has a bad bone in her body,” he said. “The kids here have a lot of stress with their studies and she really goes out of her way to be there for them.”

Moschetti likes to keep a bond with his staff members and doesn’t want work with them to be strictly business. He has met her family, visited her home and he and his wife donate clothng for Joseph to send to her remaining family in Haiti.

Though Joseph earned her American citizenship three years ago, she still has many family members living in Haiti who struggle to survive with the harsh working conditions in the country.

“I think life is hard in Haiti, because they don’t have much work there, they don’t have jobs. Kids finish school and have nothing to do,” said Joseph.  “Last week I sent money, for one of my brother’s kids. Three of them already have died, they don’t have much. They can’t find enough food to take care to live, I am so sorry for them.”

Joseph is proud of her American citizenship and hangs an American flag in front of her house. She loves the opportunities that she has been able to give to her children here in this country.

“I love to be American, people treat you nice, you come here people accept you, they give you the privilege to work here to support yourself and your family, it’s the best country,” said Joseph.

“This is my dream, that’s why I love America, if I was not here I would be someone else. My family can become anything that we want and live the dream we want to,” she said.

Yolene Joseph with her oldest daughter Astride and her granddaughter McKayla. Brandon Harrington | Staff Photographer
Yolene Joseph with her oldest daughter Astride and her granddaughter McKayla. Brandon Harrington | Staff Photographer

Joseph’s oldest daughter Astride, 30, is studying education at FAU and wishes to be a teacher. Her son Awnice is working and is now 28, who she says is no longer a boy, but a man, and her youngest daughter Ashley, 23, is pursuing a career in law enforcement.

“I’ve worked so hard over 20 years because my husband left me and I wanted my kids to know they can become anything that they want to be,” said Joseph. “I don’t feel like I’m working for nothing, they need to go to school. I’ve worked so hard to give them the better life, I want to make that life for my kids.”

Joe Pye is the news editor of the University Press. For more information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @Jpeg3189.