From Custodian to Mentor: Meet HCDE’s October Employee of the Month

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October 5, 2023 by HCDE Communications

For nearly 20 years, Ronald Richard has supported educators and students in their daily needs and provided a rich learning environment at several Harris County Department of Education schools. As head custodian at Fortis Academy, the October Employee of the Month is described as a quiet giant passionate about serving others.

“Mr. Ronald is a breath of fresh air and truly one of Fortis’ best-kept secrets,” Principal Travita Godfrey laughed. “He is extremely thoughtful and attentive to our school needs. He doesn’t want to hear ‘thank you,’ but he is more than deserving of our gratitude.”

Richard grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana, with 11 siblings whose parents raised them with a strong work ethic and a passion for cooking. The U.S. Army appreciated his talents when he was assigned to work in food services in 1979, preparing meals, cleaning the mess hall, and serving soldiers. The opportunity allowed Richard to travel the world, serving in Germany and South Korea.

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Throughout more than 20 years of military service, the lesson that took root in Richard was respect—a value he now brings to Fortis Academy.

“My parents said, ‘When people show you their ugly side, you show them your good side,’” remarked Richard. “I’ve had students come to me with a bad attitude, but I tell them respect is earned, not given. These kids come with baggage, but it’s not an excuse to disregard each other or our staff.”

HCDE’s October Employee of the Month Ronald Richard, photographed on Oct. 4, 2023.

His “no-nonsense” demeanor is appreciated by students like Jace Felder-Harris, a junior at Fortis who first met Richard last May at the school’s graduation celebration. While volunteering to help set up the gymnasium for the ceremony, Felder-Harris began talking to Richard about his life’s circumstances and learned about custodial responsibilities.

Felder-Harris describes the moment as one of the first times he felt heard by an adult.

“I could never talk to the principals or counselors at my other schools,” said Felder-Harris. “But at Fortis, I met Mr. Ron, who feels like my uncle. I don’t have to change how I talk or act with him, which I enjoy. He’s family.”

As a mentor for students who seek his guidance, Richard happily embraces the “uncle” title and hopes to leave a positive impression on the lives of Fortis Academy students who struggle with alcohol and substance abuse.

Principal Godfrey nominated Richard for consistently going above and beyond his custodial responsibilities. He also works as an extra pair of hands in Fortis’ state-of-the-art culinary program when needed.

In August, the school’s culinary team catered a professional development event for the Special Schools division, which required making 400 breakfast tacos and 200 boxed lunches. Richard arrived early to assist with kitchen equipment, cook breakfast ingredients, and clean the kitchen while Fortis staff served meals. Godfrey described feeling emotional when her team returned to the kitchen.

“The team walked in knowing their cleaning responsibilities, only to see Mr. Richard had swept the floors, cleaned the dishes, and left the counters spic and span,” Godfrey exclaimed. “We were exhausted, but he recognized we needed help and provided support without asking.”

“I love HCDE, and I’m good at my job,” Richard said with a smile. “I know how to clean this school. Everything else is a bonus.”

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