Staff luncheon - a celebration of loyalty

Posted on Sat, 01/01/2022 - 11:30am

By Tracy Poyser

Noone could have anticipated that Malibu East’s time-honored annual staff luncheon and loyalty celebration would mark the end of the second year of a pandemic that has required so much more from our employees than during normal times. We currently have 26 full-time and six part-time staffers, including the Management Office and the garage, and none of them has had the luxury of the protections we enjoy when safely tucked away in our units. In fact, just the opposite. From the doormen to our janitors, all of them have had to add extra hours and energy to keep our common areas safe for us while putting their own health on the line, like so many service workers everywhere.

To uplift everyone’s spirits, on Dec. 18, our Windjammer Room was once again transformed into a festive luncheon buffet and awards ceremony. The Community Events & Recreation Committee had planned and executed the event, with committee members rolling up their sleeves to help staffers with the physical setup, beverage service and cleanup after the event.

The food was plentiful and varied to accommodate all staff members, including those who had to come a bit late so as not to leave their stations unattended. Featured were entrees such as ribs, meatballs, chicken, veggies and healthy salads, and of course cookies, tortes and other sweet delights.

The highlight of the event was the recognition of seven long-term employees and one retiring staff member, representing a total of 170 years of service to Malibu East. Assisted by Sam Bullock as master of ceremonies, Board president Art Arfa presented the honorees with a special bonus, certificate of appreciation, and a personal letter from the Board. Unfortunately, some were unable to attend due to their work schedules.

Topping the list of honorees is our seasoned maintenance wizard, the perpetually smiling Noel Raboza with 40 years under his belt. Noel couldn’t be there in person on his day off, but he confessed to me later that he did celebrate all by himself with a late lunch, some fruit wine and a nap.

Note that Noel’s smile is so contagious it’s almost like COVID,” joked property manager Violette Deschamps. His photo says it all – that smile makes him look 21 years old, which was his age when he started working here. He turned 61 on Dec. 27. Plans to retire are nowhere on his horizon.

Chief engineer Lou Colletti praised his work ethic: “Noel has always been available for work, whether for his shift or to stay overtime. He would call me only when it was something he couldn’t handle alone.”

Not too long after emigrating from the city of Zambales in the Philippines with his entire family – four sisters, two brothers and his parents – Noel began working in our garage in May 1981. His landlady was Fe Garcia, a bookkeeper in the Malibu East office at the time, and she told him this was a good place to work. He moved on to janitorial duty in 1988 and switched from night to day shift when an opening became available. He still loves his work, but even more so our residents and his co-workers, who are like a second family. He did notice that our resident profile is shifting from older to younger, so that makes him stay young at heart.

Our 30-year honoree is longtime maintenance and mechanical crew member Armando De La Cruz. He started working here in July 1991 after his colleague Carlos Morales had introduced him to the building. Violette pointed out that Armando doesn’t talk much but “thinks out of the box.”

According to Lou, Armando is indispensable to the team. “I could always depend on Armando to do the right thing, thinking of the residents and the building first, and I can rely on him to do a job without my having to watch over him,” Lou said.

A quartet of staffers were recognized for 20 years of service:

The first credit goes to our night-shift elves, brothers Jose (Manuel) and Froylan Sanchez. Their shift runs from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., when only night owls get to see them. That includes Lou, who knows he can rely on them without supervision. “I know they both do a good job because there haven’t been any complaints about them and the way they work,” Lou said. “I’ve never seen them take time off, and sick time is extremely rare.”

Check our Dialogue archives online – www.MalibuEast.org/Dialogue – for the August 2013 issue and our cover story, “The night shift: Mystery of elves unveiled.”

Manuel started in February 2001 and his older brother Froylan six months later, both immigrants from Mexico City who have made a good life for themselves and their families in the U.S. through hard work and strong ethics. “Neither one ever complained about working the night shift, and after so many years, they still take it with a smile,” Violette said.

If you want to treat the Sanchez brothers like true elves, feel free to leave a personal New Year’s card or treat for them at the doorman’s station to show they aren’t forgotten.

Next with 20 years of service is the always impeccable doorman Gilbert Richardson. He’s been admitting residents and visitors to our building since April 2001, excelling in customer service, courtesy and diligence. Violette praises him, especially for properly checking cameras and keeping a sharp eye on the 15-minute guest parking spaces in the atrium, with a strong voice and demeanor. He’s also alert about Association rules and policies, making sure they are being followed, and does not hesitate to report violations to management or to alert residents and visitors politely, yet firmly. Gilbert is a true credit to Malibu East, and a man of exemplary discretion.

The fourth 20-year honoree is a veteran security guard who keeps us safe in our homes by blending in with our residents and, therefore, needs to remain anonymous. Well-versed in our rules and policies, she has a firm, yet gentle touch in handling delicate or difficult situations. According to Violette, “The safety of our property is enhanced by her involvement at MECA.” Many of us know her identity, so please say a discreet thank-you when you get a chance!

Almost last (but not least) is Bruce Davis, a 15-year member of our garage staff – he started in November 2006. His boss, garage manager Ali Saeed, can’t say enough about him.

To quote Ali: “It has been a blessing to have Bruce working by my side for the nine years I have been at Malibu East. I can’t count the number of times I relied on Bruce for his help. I can remember being in situations where I just couldn’t figure out a solution … and here comes Bruce, always with the helping hand. I can’t thank him enough for all he has done for not only me, but the Malibu East garage and for the residents and guests that have parked with us. Bruce is also really handy with cars; he can pretty much diagnose any problem with them. Sometimes residents would not be able to figure out what is wrong with their car, but Bruce always seems to know and will guide the resident on what to say when they visit a mechanic. He is not only a great worker, but also a great human being. The way he treats residents, customers and his co-workers is simply outstanding. He is just an exceptional employee. I wish him all the best in the years to come.”

To complete this remarkable lineup of valued staff members on a bittersweet note, Sam Bullock called on a much-beloved member of our maintenance staff who will be retiring at the end of December after nearly 25 years: Victor Noriega. His indefatigable spirit, can-do attitude, sunny disposition and exceptional work ethic have made him a favorite among our residents. Many of us expressed our thanks and good wishes to Victor by signing a 30-by-40-inch framed poster with a header message of farewell from Malibu East – something we hope will bring back lasting memories.

Victor is a walking miracle whose return to work after recovering from a brain injury suffered in a tragic hit-and-run accident on July 4, 2016, brought joy and relief to everyone here. Sadly, he had lost his beloved twin brother, longtime MECA employee Jose Noriega, only a few months earlier to a fatal heart attack. Victor’s resilience in the face of such formidable odds was exemplary. He returned to work in November 2016, and he attributed a big portion of his recovery to the support of his co-workers and our residents, especially his cousin Carlos Morales.

Here’s Lou Colletti: “Victor will be sorely missed! He would come to work punctually and start on time. He’s been one of two staffers on the second shift, and when he works alone, I don’t have to worry about work orders. He has hardly ever called me to handle a situation he couldn’t deal with. He was funny sometimes and serious other times. It’s going to be difficult to replace a person like Victor, who always had the building in mind when he was on the clock.”

What I’ll remember from jobs he did in my unit is that he never flinched when looking at a messy job, just hummed a tune and got it fixed – and we discovered a shared admiration for Willie Nelson. Somehow I can see Victor strumming a guitar on a sunny porch somewhere, with his farewell poster hanging on the back wall.

Residents were given one more chance to say goodbye to Victor in person at a farewell reception in the Windjammer Room on Tuesday, Dec. 28 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.

To conclude the “official” presentations, Violette distributed the annual holiday fund bonus checks as an expression of gratitude on behalf of all residents. It’s a testimony to the good work of our entire staff and the generosity of our residents that the 2021 fund was on par with last year’s in spite of many residents suffering significant financial hardship in this challenging year.

For a fitting finale to a spirited gathering, Santa had left a table full of wrapped mystery packages in the back of the Windjammer Room, with instructions to Violette, who declared it a white elephant gift exchange, with apparently no one receiving a lump of coal, a few befuddled faces and a lot of laughter.

Even though my camera’s zoom lens couldn’t penetrate those ubiquitous masks, everyone’s smiles manifested in happy crinkles around their eyes. When you have a chance, please let our employees know that you appreciate their dedication, extra services and concern for our safety and well-being – and not just now, but throughout the coming year. It’s the least we can do, although I’d like to imagine we could have our entire vertical village population, including pets, gather on the north deck on New Year’s Eve for a resounding round of applause, banging of pots and waving of lights. Of course, that’s sheer fantasy – and impossible to do with just four elevators.