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School custodian gets a national nod because of his kindness

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It’s not often a school custodian’s voice cracks while talking about his job.

But it happened a few times while Sergio Nuno, not your ordinary custodian, talked about the students he sees every school day.

What means the most to him, he said “is the success of the kids,” his voice filled with emotion.

“Their success,” he said and paused, “is the future for everybody.”

Nuno, 66, of Chicago Heights, has worked 12 years as a custodian for Matteson School District 162 and Southland College Prep Charter High School in Richton Park.

The care he puts into his job has earned him national recognition. In May, he was named one of 17 recipients nationwide of the LifeChanger Award.

As one of the national winners, Nuno will receive $3,000 from the National Life Group Foundation.

Each school year, the LifeChanger of the Year program receives hundreds of nominations from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Administrators, teachers, staff, students and alumni posted comments about Nuno and his impact on their lives on his profile on the LifeChanger website.

A selection committee reviewed the comments as a part of their evaluation of nominees. Teachers, coaches, administrators and custodians were selected.

In the end, folks in District 162 and the high school were not surprised Nuno won because they know he cares deeply.

His work day starts at 6 a.m. but he arrives at 5:30, “to get a head start.” He often stays late. But it’s more than cleaning classroom floors or bathrooms.

“I give back to the kids. To motivate. To make things go forward. That’s my purpose. Everything the kids need, I am there for them,” Nuno said during a chat at the district office.

There have been countless times when Nuno has been approached by students seeking advice or when he sees one down in the dumps.

“The thing is, when the kids start to talk to me and share with me, I am there for them. I never walk away,” Nuno said. “When someone says something to me, I always listen. When you listen, you can always make a difference.”

He recalled the day he saw a boy crying.

“I asked are you okay? Then he opened up,” Nuno said.

It turned out the boy was upset about poor grades.

“I told him you can turn around and change and make a success. Don’t let it bother you. You’re still young. Right now, you feel this because you’re young,” Nuno said.

Sergio Nuno, a custodian at Matteson School District 162 schools, received a giant card signed by many well wishers after he had to miss an assembly celebrating him being named one of 17 recipients nationwide of the LifeChanger Award.(Steve Metsch/Daily Southtown)

His caring attitude is why Blondean Davis, superintendent of Matteson School District 162 and Southland College Prep CEO, nominated Nuno for the award, calling him the “heart of the district.”

“From our youngest scholars at our preschool to the seniors at our high school and our alumni across the country, Sergio, as the students and staff affectionately call him, is loved,” Davis said in a prepared statement.

“Sergio sets the atmosphere of the school. He has impacted our students’ lives by encouraging them and letting them know that they are seen and loved.”

Nuno is now sidelined from work as he recovers from pacemaker surgery in May. His recovery is assisted by the award, which “feels great.”

He enjoys being a custodian “because I’m a people person. When you get along with everybody, (the job) won’t be stressful.”

Southland Prep music teacher Elizabeth Norman Sojourner said Nuno “makes everyone feel like a queen or king.”

Nuno, who moved to America when he was 18, worked for two steel companies before joining the school district. He works at Richton Square School in Richton Park, which has preschool students and he works at the high school on Saturdays.

Richton Square Principal Kim McGuire said Nuno “has a gentle kindness that spreads to all he encounters. His sensitivity reaches from our littlest of learners through to our seasoned professionals. … He is a joy to watch and work alongside.”

Olivia Brown, a 2019 graduate of Southland and a recent graduate of the University of Missouri, works as a crisis counselor. She said Nuno’s encouragement had a lasting impact.

“His warm personality always turned my bad days into good days. Anytime I would tell Sergio I was having a long day he would always say ‘You keep going girl, you got this’ and those words will forever stick with me,” Brown said.

Because of his pacemaker surgery, Nuno was unable to attend a celebration announcing the award on May 20.

Davis, who accepted the award on his behalf, said a large celebration with students, alumni, the band and cheerleaders will be held in the fall.

“He deserves all of the recognition and accolades,” Davis said. “He is a much-loved member of the Southland and District 162 family.”

Security officer Lloyd Graham added: “We love Sergio because he’s always there for you. Very reliable. Great guy.”

Until he’s able to return to work, baseball fan Nuno plans to keep watching the struggling White Sox, hoping Ozzie Guillen returns as manager.

Nuno, who is no longer married, has a 37-year-old son and a 17-year-old grandson. They live in Ohio.

And that $3,000 prize? “A vacation,” he said with a smile.

Steve Metsch is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown. 

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