Jennifer Ramirez was on the verge of dropping out. It was the middle of midterms, and the pressure in her family life was making her doubt her future at Cal Poly Pomona. That’s when Reggie Keys and Sam Berry arrived.
It wasn’t anything outside the ordinary for the two custodians in University Housing to stop by the office where Ramirez worked, but the visit proved pivotal for the liberal arts student, who had set a goal of becoming a teacher.
“I told them, ‘You know, I’m not having a good day,’ and Sam asked, ‘What do you mean you’re not having a good day?’ I explained what was happening, and he told me, ‘Jennifer, think about this for a moment. Think about how many kids are going to miss out if you don’t become a teacher.’ It was the most eye-opening thing. I realized I’d be a statistic. I realized if I’m going to go do something, I need to work for it. That’s the one thing Reggie and Sam always taught me.”
Keys and Berry, who work in the suites, are widely known among students and staff for their friendly and caring nature, which is quietly borne out in their support of higher education.
More than a dozen years ago, a coworker invited the pair to join the Black Faculty and Staff Association. Membership included making a donation toward the group’s scholarship fund. Keys and Berry were happy to oblige, opting for a payroll deduction of $5 per month.
“Whatever kind of money I can give that will help further education, that’s fine with me,” Berry says.
Keys concurs. “With us being custodians, our funds were limited. But like Sam said, we were willing to put forth that small amount in the hopes that it may do some good. We weren’t doing it for any ‘stand out among the workers’ thing. It was just something that needed to be done at the time.”
Chelsea Navarro, interim area coordinator for two of the suites complexes, calls Keys and Berry the Dynamic Duo.
“Sam is a bit more of the witty, humorous one, and Reggie is just pure love,” she says. “Almost every day I see Reggie, and he always says, ‘Beautiful day!’ and I reply, ‘Yes it is!’ and he says, ‘Beautiful day for a beautiful lady.’ He just makes my day. Sam knows a lot about my life, and he holds me accountable to eating healthy. Every day he asks me what I ate and I say ‘Oh you know, some coffee,’ and he’s like, ‘That’s not real food! You need to eat real food.’ I just love how supportive they are.”
Keys, who has served the campus for 28 years, was on the hiring committee when Berry came aboard. They clicked almost immediately.
“I saw him to be dedicated, but not so serious that he couldn’t have fun,” Keys says.
“Reggie showed me around campus my first day here,” Berry says. “That’s when our friendship started.”
With their easygoing, friendly personalities, the two have created a sense of family and community on campus. Both have families and children of their own, and they recognize that for most student residents, this is their first experience living away from home.
“It’s important to the students to know there’s someone they can go to if they need something,” Keys says. “They come in as kids and leave as educated adults.”
That road from kid to adult can be rocky, but sometimes all a student needs to succeed is something small — a kind word or a simple smile. Keys and Berry show it’s often the little things that count.
“Do what you can — just do something,” Berry says.
“Even if it’s volunteering, help out in any way possible,” Keys says. “Something is better than nothing. If you have the time and whatever resources that you can, put it toward someone’s education. It’s really a blessing, especially for those who need it, especially in this economy.”