The following is the first in a LearnPHC series on student summer jobs starting with Rachel Hankinson's job as a student mailroom worker at Patrick Henry College.
In the Barbara Hodel basement, a single window peers into an off-white colored room filled with boxes, letters, and office supplies. A chalk tablet sits at the window with the words “prayer request” imprinted on the front as a succulent cupped in a polka-dotted pot grows across from it. Another chalkboard, this one with the words “welcome to the mailroom,” can be seen from the window.
A "Welcome to the mailroom" sign on display
“I’ve always loved getting mail,” Rachel Hankinson said. “When I was little, I actually paid my dad to send me pieces of mail.” Hankinson, a Patrick Henry College student, started work at the school’s mailroom at the beginning of the summer and has since received perspective and a newfound desire to better things around her.
At 8:30 a.m., her morning begins with cleaning, laminating, or finishing tasks from the night before. At 10:15 a.m., her boss, Geoffrey Edling, affectionately referred to as Mr. E, prepares his peanut butter sandwich on a piece of cardboard and departs for a post office run. Returning with that day’s stash, Mr. E and Hankinson scan and sort each package into their respective bin.
Hankinson with the morning mail
“Yesterday I processed maybe 100 packages,” Hankinson said. She leaves for a half an hour lunch at 12:30 p.m. with the ladies from Founders and spends the rest of the day waiting for UPS and FedEx to arrive. After finishing paperwork, Hankinson waters the succulent, closes the window, and clocks out.
“On my first day, you couldn’t see any of the tables,” Hankinson said describing the original clutter in the mailroom. Now the tables are clean with stacks of books and plants neatly displayed on them. Noticing how often staff came to the mailroom for miscellaneous office supplies, Hankinson decided to label the supplies. The day after Hankinson classified the office supplies table, a staff member noticed and exclaimed, “You’ve labeled the rubber bands!”
Hankinson explained that her initial motivation for organizing the mailroom originated with her abhorrence of dirt and clutter but developed into a desire the serve PHC’s staff.
“Something that I didn’t realize as a student is… there are so many people behind the scenes I didn’t even know worked here who are… incredible,” Hankinson said. “They come in and out of the mailroom to mail their department’s mail or to laminate something… and they deserve to have just as wonderful as an experience as students have.” - Rachel Hankinson, Student Mailroom Worker
Hankinson's boss Mr. Edling
“I have to get this all taken care of so it’s ready for the students,” Hankinson recalls Mr. E saying as he prepared for students returning in August. Afternoon stories with Mr. E about when he left home at 18 to work in the circus are the most interesting part of Hankinson’s day. “He really does care about the students,” Hankinson said. One workday Hankinson received difficult news and started crying. Immediately Mr. E began praying for her. “I can’t put into words what it’s like to have a boss like that,” Hankinson said.
Each week Hankinson wipes off the prayer request board to make room for next week’s request. She sometimes notices people through the window stop to read the board. “Sometimes other student workers joke with me saying, ‘This isn’t a real job because you get to sit and work on your schoolwork and talk to your boss.’ But it really is a real job,” Hankinson said. She explained that staff depend on the mailroom to print all their materials. Every booklet, Hankinson explained, displayed on campus is printed in the mailroom.
Window into the mailroom
Hankinson’s long-term goal is to see the thoughtfulness she has cultivated continue after she clock outs for the last time. She uses $20 of each paycheck to add small decorations to the room. “It’s hard to keep plants because there’s no sunlight or fresh air,” Hankinson said. “I just keep watering it and hoping it won’t die.”