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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC Housekeeper Mothers Students

This gift consumed time and energy from a person who had little of those to give. The giver isn't a relative of Hendley, but she is thought of as a second mom around campus.

Her name is Betty Russell, a housekeeper in Old East Residence Hall, where Hendley lives.

"She used her own food, and she did it in her spare time," Hendley said. "It made me feel really good."

While some say interactions such as these are uncommon, friendly relationships between students and housekeepers can be found on campus.

Nate Jaime, Old East resident assistant and public policy major, said the students consider Russell a second mother -- as the birthday meal proved. "She knew he hadn't had a home-cooked meal in a long time, so she took time out of her schedule to cook him baked chicken and cornbread for lunch," he said.

Russell -- or Miss Betty to her residents -- often uses homemade treats and potpourri sprays to create a unique atmosphere for her students. "She really takes care of everybody," said Ana-Laura Diaz, a junior music major who lives in Old East. "It's more like a family here."

Although Russell makes an extra effort to be attentive to Old East residents, the typical duties of a University housekeeper keep her busy.

She cleans the public areas of the residence hall every day. Between sweeping the steps, mopping the hardwood floors and dusting the library, Russell takes time to get to know the residents.

"She'll take time to talk to the students and give us advice," Jaime said of Russell. "If someone's having a bad day she'll tell them that things will get better, and if they don't feel like studying she'll tell them to get in line."

Russell said she loves working on campus because of her relationship with students. "They make me feel comfortable," she said. "There is never a time when they pass my door and do not speak to me."

Russell's co-worker, Bernice Cradle, works in Alderman Residence Hall, and said she has also fostered friendships with students in her 20 years as a housekeeper.

"I have a great relationship with the students," Cradle said. "They're always coming up and asking how my day is. Even older ones who have graduated still keep in touch."

Some housekeepers say experiences such as Russell's and Cradle's are uncommon on a campus where many students and housekeepers remain strangers to each other.

"(The students) don't do a whole lot of talking," said Chirline Mason, a housekeeper for Cobb Residence Hall. "I don't even know half of their names."

Regardless of whether housekeepers find friendships with students, Russell said she believes they have one of the most important jobs on campus.

Bill Burston, director of University housekeeping, said the low wages and difficulties of the job keep the department frequently understaffed.

Burston said he scrambles to keep positions filled, but often shifts are left open. He must then rely on his current staff to compensate for the lack.

Russell is no exception, and her residents said they are aware of her strain.

"Sometimes she has to clean Old West too, which extends her beyond her means," Jaime said.

Russell said she enjoys her job but does not believe she will remain in housekeeping. "I'd like to get into an office job. I don't mind being here, but I'd like to move a little higher."

Valuing Russell not only as a housekeeper but as a friend, Hendley said he will miss her. "It would be like trying to tell a good friend goodbye," he said.

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For now, Russell said she will continue her efforts to build relationships with her residents. "I think I've got them spoiled," she said. "I don't mind, as long as they keep being good."

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