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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Facilitating positive energy on the job

Published: October 16, 2009
Section: Features

Making A Difference<br /><i>PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot</i>

Making A Difference
PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

It’s a cool, Monday morning; 11:15 a.m., Columbus Day. Most Brandeis employees have the day off. Those who have been here have been at work a mere two hours and 15 minutes. Not facilities worker Mike Flood, though.

Flood has been at work in the Usdan Student Center since 5 a.m. He was also here this weekend, filling in for a sick coworker.

While most college students moan and groan about having to wake up for early morning classes, Flood is here bright and early, and with 10 times many students’ enthusiasm.

Flood, 5 feet 8 inches tall and wearing a baseball cap, walks briskly with the cheerful air of someone very content to be where he is. He ends many of his sentences with the word “right?” and an upward interrogative intonation, as if inviting your involvement in the story he’s excitedly telling. Your input is welcome, after all, because teamwork is what Flood is all about.

While sitting in the upper level of Levin ballroom, Flood occasionally sneaks a peak out the window to the beautiful sunny fall day we’re having. In between thoughts, he diligently peeks at his walkie-talkie whenever he hears a page ring in.

This Saturday, Flood says, will mark his 15th year – to the exact day – of working as a custodian for Brandeis’ Office of Facilities Services; 15 years of his life he’s enjoyed soaking in the energy of a college campus.

“Brandeis has been a very positive experience for me,” he says. “I came here when I was almost 50 years old. It’s been a good, secure job.”

There’s a certain cyclical nature to Flood’s yearly existence; a groove he’s got down to a science.

“One thing I really enjoy about working in a school is that you have a beginning and an end each year, and I think that’s a nice way to measure [time and milestones],” he says. “When you’re out in the public life, it’s just one year rolls into another, you know?”

Hardly the case for Flood, for whom each day of work at Brandeis brings excitement and joy, and who, during his 15 years at Brandeis, has made a difference in the lives of countless students, staff and faculty, whether they know it or not.

He has a certain attention to detail, asking about the lives of all the students and staff members he encounters, making an effort to learn both their names and their stories. He calls them over and tells them to enjoy their day, always looking on the bright side. When it’s raining out, Flood emphasizes the sunny day that preceded the gloom, and when it’s sunny out, he makes sure to get outside and enjoy it.

Before Brandeis, Flood worked at Pine Manor College in Brookline, Mass. for nearly seven years. Prior to that, he worked at a veteran’s clinic in Boston. Like most things he talks about, Flood speaks fondly of his previous places of employment.

A Boston native, Flood grew up in Dorchester, the youngest of four children. His two older brothers have since passed away, but Flood is still very close with his older sister, whom he calls every Monday.

He now lives in Framingham with his wife of two years, Jane Flood. It was less than a year after he started work at Brandeis that Flood was to meet the future love of his life. It was a summer day in 1995, and Flood was in the Usdan Boulevard, where Jane works. He still speaks of her with the admiring expression of a man falling in love.

Finding his wife isn’t the only blessing Flood has found at Brandeis. He’s also cultivated friendships with colleagues and those he encounters throughout the day.

As one of approximately 30 custodians working the early shift, Flood starts work each morning at 5 a.m., arriving at his assigned building, Usdan, and keeps going until the end of his shift at 1:30 p.m.

A typical day for Flood, who used to work as a custodian in the Fine Arts Department, starts with unlocking Usdan and doing a run through to make sure everything’s in place. Throughout the morning, he cleans and restocks the restrooms, vacuums the floors and takes out the trash in various offices.

At 10 a.m. each day, Flood takes a 10-minute break to refuel with a warm cup of tea. A former coffee fiend, he’s since given it up for the healthier choice of tea. Staying healthy is one thing that gives Flood, 64 years old, so much energy.

“I feel very blessed that I have my health. That’s something I never take for granted,” he says. “I consider it a gift and I try to work to maintain it.”

He does so by eating healthy foods and getting exercise daily. Flood works out at the Brandeis gym three days a week after work for an hour and 20 minutes.

“The older I get the healthier I get,” he laughs, then corrects himself. “No, I become more health conscious. And I think [eating right and exercising] does give you good energy.”

Flood also happily soaks in the energy of those around him. He can often be found on the balcony outside of Usdan’s Alumni Lounge, peering out at the bustling life below. Or if it’s between 10 and 10:30 a.m., you’re most likely to spot Flood down at his favorite spot on campus – the new track – where he does laps during his lunch break.

Flood and his colleagues use the track daily – weather permitting – and he enjoys the location so much because of its view: “I love walking there because you can see the whole [campus].”

With the picturesque background of the sprawling Brandeis campus to take in, and the occasional student sport practices around him, Flood is in his element.

“It’s good energy,” he says.

With Flood, it all seems to come back to what seems to be one of his favorite words – energy. There’s energy of the physical sense – that which Flood draws from his workouts – and then there’s that obvious sense of human spirit he exudes.

You could say it’s this enthusiasm for life that seems to have taken Flood so far.

“I enjoy being here; that’s good energy. You can’t do a job if you don’t enjoy it,” he says. “I don’t care, you can’t just come to any job [and be unhappy]…You spend one third of your life on the job. You’ve got to find something you enjoy doing.”

As he speaks fondly of his colleagues, especially those he works closely with in Usdan, you can tell Flood certainly does enjoy his job.

“It’s a good group. You know, we kind of complement each other,” he says. “Sometimes you can get in a situation where there can be conflict with coworkers, but up here it doesn’t exist. There’s no ego problem.”

This working dynamic helps Flood to juggle many tasks on a daily basis. Stationed in Usdan, a building where many events – from dances and parties to career fairs and conferences – take place on a frequent basis, Flood and his colleagues are responsible for ensuring the rooms are set up and cleaned up. Some days when there are back-to-back events, there needs to be a quick turnaround. But Flood and his colleagues have it down to a system.

“We’ve been doing it for a number of years, so you kind of have a feel for what you have to do,” he says.

It’s this “can do” attitude that earns Flood the respect of so many around him. Chaplaincy Department Administrator Ellen Afienko has known Flood since her department moved into the Levin Ballroom side of Usdan nearly five years ago. For Afienko, who has worked at Brandeis nearly 31 years, working in the same building as Flood has been a pleasure.

“Every morning, I bump into him and he welcomes me to the building with a cheery hello and he starts my day off very nicely,” she says.

During her morning ritual of getting the mail, Afienko often runs into Flood, who always offers to help her carry heavy packages; an act that doesn’t go unappreciated.

“He is a gentleman as well as a philospher [and] a positive person,” she says.

Afienko says she enjoys speaking with Flood because of his bright spirit and his careful consideration of the world going on around him.

“I have a feeling as though the world would be at a loss without him here,” Afienko says. “And I say that because I look at him as our resident ray of sunshine because really no matter what is going on…Mike will say ‘It’s all good, Ellie, it’s all good.’”

“I do get a lot of positive feedback from different people, and that gives you motivation to keep doing what you’re doing,” he says.

Outside of Brandeis, Flood likes to keep busy and enjoys exercising, reading and cooking.

“I love to cook,” he says. “It’s good therapy and it’s so easy. You know, you take your time [and] read the directions…I made [meatball stew] yesterday. You know how long this took to make?”

Flood goes on to explain how simple the meatball stew – with a four minute preparation time –was to make. In all aspects of his life, he seems to emphasize the positive; the possibility of accomplishment.

Flood takes pleasure in the small things in life, like getting a compliment from his sister – a former chef – when he cooks a good meal, or in admiring a beech tree down near Gosman he used to love–“Trees, they’re pretty magical.”

If things go according to plan, Flood will retire in 18 months with his wife, and he’ll have a lot more time to enjoy these small things in life. But rather than look ahead, Flood prefers to live in the moment.

“I don’t like making plans,” he says. “Because, what’s the expression, ‘Life is what happens when you’re making plans?’”

But when asked what he’s looking forward to doing when he’s retired, Flood manages to come up with a few things he’d like to do. For starters, he wants to go to Washington D.C. to visit museums like the Smithsonian. After that, he’s looking forward to relaxing, spending time with his wife, keeping up with his workouts and spending some more time in the kitchen cooking. So you can bet he certainly won’t be sitting around idle.

But then again, getting the chance to be a bit lazy after all these years of hard work will be a bit nice.

“I’m looking forward to a weekday, a work day, when it’s snowing out and I can just look out the window and go back to bed,” he laughs. “That’ll be a good thing.”