Workers With Different Abilities Share Their Strengths Through Cleaning

Q&A with a community services agency-trained custodian

Fabray Nicholas Image courtesy of Ada S. McKinley Community Services
Fabray Nick Nicholas

Fabray “Nick” Nicholas

Employing people with different abilities helps workers gain skills and financial independence and provides employers with trained, reliable staff. Social agencies across the country are training people with disabilities for careers in several sectors, including the cleaning industry. 

Ada S. McKinley Community Services, a human services agency and social enterprise in Chicago, has been educating and employing people since 1919. Its namesake, Ada S. McKinley, a schoolteacher and social reformer, founded the agency as a settlement house to assist Black World War I veterans and their families migrating from the South. Today, McKinley’s Janitorial Services Program, which recently achieved certification in ISSA’s Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS), employs over 100 adults with intellectual disabilities and cognitive impairments who provide cleaning and facility management for 25 federal, state, and private facilities in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana. CMM interviewed one of these workers, Fabray “Nick” Nicholas. 

When did you get into custodial work?

Nicholas: My first job as a janitor was in Memphis, Tennessee. I liked the job because it was steady. There is always something to be cleaned, and it’s rewarding once you’re finished and can see the difference you made, and it smells good. 

How did you start working for Ada S. McKinley Community Services?

Nicholas: I am from Chicago, so after being in Memphis for a couple years, I returned home and brought my custodial experience with me. The Illinois Department of Human Services helped me find some options of where I could work, and Ada S. McKinley Community Services gave me the opportunity to join their team. It will be my ninth year working there in May. 

Can you describe where you work and some of your duties and responsibilities?

Nicholas: I work at three locations in total, two of them are Ada S. McKinley buildings and the third is the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, which hires Ada S. McKinley to provide cleaning services. 

I do it all. Besides cleaning, dusting, and taking out the trash, I also help with any special events going on that require special cleaning or help setting up tables.

What’s your favorite part of the job?

Nicholas: It makes me proud once everything is finished and I can see the work that I did. It’s rewarding when people at Ada S. McKinley and the attorney general’s office compliment and thank me, sometimes even writing me letters. 

I also love to learn new things, like when a location gets a new vacuum or tool that I can use.

What’s the hardest part of the job?

Nicholas: Special events, because each event requires something different.

Do you have any career goals you would like to share?

Nicholas: I am saving up for a new home and a new car. I get to work taking Chicago transit, and a car would make it a lot easier to travel from location to location.

What would you say to someone who is interested in custodial work?

Nicholas: It takes a good attitude and a positive, cooperative spirit. 

Kathleen Misovic

Managing Editor for CMM

Kathleen Misovic is managing editor for CMM. She has a degree in journalism and an extensive background in writing for print and digital media for various publications and associations. Contact her at [email protected].  

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