OGDEN, Utah (ABC4) – Mary Warren may keep the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind Ogden Campus spick and span, but she’s not your average custodian.
Warren’s love for and dedication to the kids who attend the school has earned her a place among the 12 finalists in Tennant Company’s Custodians are Key Campaign, an eight-month recognition campaign that rewards the outstanding work custodians are doing throughout North America.
Warren will earn a $500 gift card for being chosen as a finalist. The winner and their school will earn a $15,000 prize package. Warren was chosen as one of the 12 finalists out of 2,200 nominations of custodians from across the United States and Canada.
“It’s humbling; it really is,” Warren tells ABC4. “I’m just being a mama, trying to take care of kids- only I have a whole bunch from the age of three to 22. It really makes me feel really humbled and honored.”
Warren is known for gifting the students a treat bag and book on their birthdays. The blind students receive a braille book, she says.
“They’re always showing me things they like, whether it’s dinosaurs or unicorns or princesses,” Warren says.
And to get the older kids engaged in research, Warren chooses a trivia question every Monday. The student who gets the answer right first is awarded a treat or toy.
“It’s the kind they can’t just google the answer, and so they have to kind of research,” Warren explains.
And she’ll try to encourage the students to eat healthy too.
“They want me to feel their muscles and let me know they’re eating well and press their little heads to make sure their brains aren’t mushy because they’re learning well,” Warren explains.
Every now and then she’ll have one of her high school kids come up to her that she had when they were in preschool to have her check their muscles to see how much they’ve grown, she says.
Warren has even learned sign language to communicate with the students, even though arthritis keeps her from signing as well as she would like.
“The children tease me and tell me I’m mumbling with my hands,” she laughs.
“She loves the students here and they love her right back!” said Kristin Walker, Library Technician, who nominated Ms. Warren.
Warren says her favorite thing about being a custodian is being able to make sure that the school is clean and healthy for the kids.
“I know that this school is clean and it’s safe and it’s healthy for these kids and for that brief moment to know, okay these kids are alright, because they’re just kids,” she shares. “Some can’t see, some can’t hear… but they’re kids. That’s it, they’re children. They just need love and taking care of.”
And she takes this responsibility very seriously.
“When they’re home, mommy and daddy takes care of them, but they become our responsibility when they’re here…we have health-fragile children, and it is our responsibility to make sure they’re going to be okay.”
Warren has worked as a custodian for the school for going on 17 years, she tells ABC4, and the kids are the reason she stays at a job that she began with the intention of only working for a month during summer camps at the school.
“Yeah, they make a big difference to me, a huge difference. They mean the world. My kids were just starting college when I started here…,” she says. “I don’t have an empty nest.”
She says she was in between heavy equipment jobs and needed summer work when she was first asked to help at the school.
“Like I said, I love the kids, I love the teachers, and I really believe in what we’re doing here.”