Upon receiving a phone call from a distressed young resident, this property manager made a difference.
Today at work, I received a call from the child of a resident. There was an emergency in his apartment, and he couldn't reach his mother by phone. He wouldn't tell me what the emergency was, only that everyone was okay, but that he was scared. His prepubescent voice cracked as he asked me to please come right over. And could I hurry? I told him that I was on my way.
I arrived just as the resident—a working single mother—was arriving home for the evening. This was a good thing, because otherwise I would only have stood in the doorway of her apartment home—I don't enter apartments where an adult isn't present. The mother let me in, and it was then that we discovered that the family’s overweight pet guinea pig had somehow gotten loose. The cage had been turned on its side—with cedar chips spilling into the floor—and someone had tripped over it and broken it apart.
All three children had come home after school, and the oldest—the one who called me in a panic—had been attempting to make a snack for his younger siblings. Somehow, during this process, the oven door had been pulled completely off its hinges, and the heating element was stuck on bake. The toilet had also overflowed, because while the oldest was baking snacks and searching for the guinea pig, the youngest had flushed what appeared to be Thomas (the Train) and all of his little wooden friends down the drain.
The poor Mama walked into all of this – cedar chips and rodent poop scattered across the living room floor, the oven smoking and the over door sitting cockeyed on the floor, and the toilet spilling into the hallway. I could see that she was losing it. She didn't say a word, and just surveyed the damage. The oldest child immediately started talking, stuttering and tripping over his words in his haste to explain away the mess. I gently told him that it was okay and then went to work turning off the water to the toilet and unplugging the oven. I found Lil Willie (the guinea pig) hiding behind the stove and put him in the bathtub so that he couldn't escape until his cage could be repaired.
During all of this, Mama never said a word. I could see the anguish in her face; she was “done,” emotionally, physically and mentally- and she was clearly trying to hold back tears. I asked her if I could take the kids with me and get them a snack and help them fix the cage while she got settled. She nodded, and the kids helped me gather up the broken pieces of Willie's cage and cart them back to my office, where we rigged it together again with zip ties as we had cookies and juice and talked about their day at school.
Later, I walked the kids home, and checked in on the progress of the repairs in the unit. My maintenance tech had put the oven back together again, fixed the faulty knob, and unclogged the toilet and sent Thomas and the other train cars back to the toy bin where they belonged. Mama had clearly had a good cry and had her brave face back on. The oldest child apologized, and she told him it wasn't his fault. Lil Willie went back to his cage and munched happily on his food, oblivious that the entire household had imploded that afternoon thanks in part to his escapades.
Most of the time, my job sucks. I quit at least 10 times a day. But today, I was the first person that a 13-year-old boy thought of to call when he needed help. He didn't call because I was the manager- he called because he was scared. He called because he knew that I would come, without explanation.
He called because he could count on me. Today I didn’t just do my job. I did a lot more.
Candy Bauer is a Community Manager at Village at Mitchell Pond in Salisbury, Md.