Bearing a staunch smile, a southern twang and a Rubbermaid broom, Physical Plant employee Sarah Stevens is a staple to the Elon community.
She may hold a cleaning staff position, but those who have met her know that she’s so much more than that. She’s an incredible friend, counselor, and advisor to anyone who has had the pleasure of getting to know her.
Now on the cleaning staff for the Loy center neighborhood where she has many admirers due to her reliable positivity, Stevens has been at Elon for six years and has seen a handful of change come upon day-to-day life at the university. “I’ve seen more buildings built and torn down at this college in six years than I had in any measure of time in my life before that,” she mentioned. She speaks to how she’s seen so much change, she can barely remember what the campus looked like when she started, and how there are things us current students wouldn’t know had once existed. For instance, she explained, her first gig here was as a cashier in something called the “C-Store, a comfort food dining location in the downstairs of McEwen Dining hall, where Chick-fil-A sits today,” she remarked in an interview.
“My spot was the hottest place to eat on campus,” she boasts with a smile, “in the morning we sold tots and in the afternoon we had chicken tenders. The line went so far out the door we never knew when it would end…But since then, of course, I have sure seen my fair share of change come to the college. Buildings spring up here overnight, it seems,” she attests.
But in light of all the things that have changed, Stevens truly loves her position at the university all the same. Before landing the job at Elon, she ha
d been out of work for some time, having been a victim of personnel cuts at the kitchen and bath design company she had been working at for nearly 15 years in Guilford County. As bad news tends to piggyback itself, her situation quickly worsened in ways she never could have imagined it could. Shortly after this, Stevens was struck with tragedy when her son got in
a motorcycle wreck, went into a coma and was suffering from both a brain injury and collapsed lungs.
This turned Stevens’ world upside down. For two weeks, she frantically searched for employment to keep her family safe so that she could pay his medical bills. It was at the suggestion of a friend who worked with Aramark at Elon that she give it a try too. “Her friend had said that it was ‘easy money and lots of fun’ to work with young, college-age people,” says Stevens, remarking that she really didn’t have time to be picky.
Not seeing another option, Stevens applied and got the job.
And from day one, her employment at Elon was a saving grace. She quickly had the money to pay her son’s medical bills, and miraculously, he recovered from his condition within the next month and was back on his feet soon after. Say what you will about fate, but good things come to the best people, or at least was the case with Stevens.
And so, in a way, her little cashier gig had saved her family, which might have been the reason Stevens initially loved her job, but now, things have changed. She says the reason she so adores working at Elon these days is because of the kids she gets to work for.
“You guys keep me young, you really do,”Stevens raves, “you’re the reason I get up in the morning and the reason I wear this same itchy shirt every day. I love the hope and the future I see in you kids, it makes me proud to have known you. You make me feel like an Elon parent, and that is something to be proud of.”
She speaks about how when her son was in the hospital, and she began working at Elon, the stories from the kids she met really made her happy in the light of her son’s tragedy. She sees the future these kids are going to have when they’re old and gray and have graduated from
Elon, and she lives vicariously through this pride, like the parent of a college student she always wanted to be.
“I meet up with people I knew when they were freshmen and I see them graduating,” says Stevens, “these kids that I love to death, and it really warms my heart. I keep their stories and I remember them when they’re gone. And I’ll remember them if they ever come back, too.”
She compares herself to the tradition and culture of Elon, and how she feels small next to the grandeur that comes about the university every day, the things being built, the programs being put into place and the future that sparkles ahead for the college. She thinks she’s the kind of thing these kids are going to brush over when they remember their college experiences. But this is where, in a shocking divergence from character, she’s wrong.
Hanna Harper, Elon sophomore and a close friend of Stevens’ from living in the Loy Center had this to say about her,“Miss Sarah is definitely one of the biggest perks of living in the on-campus house,” says Harper. “She keeps us all in check and her generosity
is constantly overflowing. She’s also hilarious and makes my day very regularly and I am so thankful to have her around. I can’t wait to come back and visit her some day.”
Harper’s housemate, Alexa Schmitt, echoes the sentiment by saying how fond she is of Stevens.”Miss Sarah comes into our house every day and treats the 10 of us like her own kids, it’s clear that she sees us as more than just regular college students,” says Schmitt. “She is such a positive person, whether it be a simple ‘have a great day,’ or a bit of her classic sage advice, she’s always such a joy to be around.
Not only is the Elon community a home to Stevens, but Alamance County was where she was born, raised and educated, and Stevens testifies that the county has gone through its fair share of change since her youth, too.
Stevens was born into a family with five girls, of which she was the youngest. She lived a chaotic life with four elder sisters, and mentions that she was often the odd one out, looking different from the rest of them for whatever reason.
“If people thought you had a different daddy,” remarks Stevens, “they called you the ‘Milkman’s Kid’. That’s what everyone called me for the first few years of my life. Soon after that, my real father died, and that’s how I ended up with a wonderful stepfather,” she smiles sarcastically.
A few years into this wild ride of a home life, she was relocated to Guilford County by Social Services, who decided to remove her from the family, as she was a victim of an abusive home situation.
“My sisters,” she attests, “all four of them, they tried to fight the system and get me back in the house, but it was too tough. I had permanently been moved to another family.”
“And that’s where I was, Guilford County, in a new family to live a new life,” she says. She questions whether she would’ve turned out the same kind of person if she hadn’t been removed from her original family. She wonders who she would’ve become.
But those who know her and the joy she is so known for love and cherish the person she is today, regardless of what she has been through.
“People are always saying Sarah is so generous and kind, but that’s where I disagree,” says Marcella Mastrocola, another of the girls who lives in a house serviced by Stevens. “Sure, she’s kind and friendly, but that’s not the first thing that comes to mind. I like Miss Sarah because she’s kind of a mother figure for everyone that lives in the houses she services. She will absolutely tell things how it is and and has a sense for knowing when something is wrong. She’s a genuine person and wants to know what’s going on in our lives. She’s not going to sugarcoat things if something is bothering her. She talks to me frankly like we’ve been friends forever, and that might be the coolest thing about her. The amount of times I’ve hashed out something I was bothered by with her is what makes her the absolute star that she is. She really knows how to connect with people, and I trusted her right away. She’s one of a kind, really.”
When asked what the best life advice was that she’s ever received, here’s what she had to say.
Clara Hannigan, another whose life has been brightened by Stevens, had this to say about her.
“We talk every day, and she always has a smile on her face, a positive attitude, and a warm heart. There’s no judgment about the messes we made in the previous day, but instead a genuine interest on how I’m doing and how my day is going. Recently, I found out that she was a survivor of breast cancer and was going through a bit of a relapse scare, but I never would have guessed because she’s always so upbeat and positive. She takes life one day at a time, and it’s extremely humbling and inspiring to interact with her. I want to adopt her attitude someday.”
Stevens attests that whenever students have positive things to say about her, they’re just building her up. But again, this is a spot where she happens to be wrong.
“She’s always talking about how she remembers our stories when we’re gone,” says Harper, “but I think I’ll remember hers much longer. She’s just the kind of person who sticks. You know?”