At 49, Jose Ilarraza has spent most of his career at P.S. 372, The Children’s School in Brooklyn. He started out there as a cleaner almost 23 years ago and his title is now handyman, though he does just about everything. “Any repairs, paint, install toilets, vacuum breakers, stuff like that, outlets, changing lights. And then on top of that, the general cleaning, sweeping, mopping, picking up garbage, recycle, sweeping stairs, removing the garbage in the cafeteria, removing the scraps, complying with sanitation,” he says.
When it’s movie night, Ilarraza sets up all the chairs. When there’s a winter storm, Ilarraza stays all night shoveling snow. “It's just the dedication, because I'd rather be here already rather than go home. It comes with the job,” he says. His decades working around kids has made him immune to some of the grosser things they produce; by now, it doesn’t phase him. “Kids do the darndest things, but I have kids and I understand,” he says.
Ilarraza started out working in public transportation but found it wasn’t for him. He was recommended for the job at PS 373 by someone he knew, and has been sure to pay the favor forward by recommending others. He is currently in HVAC training, and makes an effort to take advantage of every learning opportunity. He’d encourage every union member to do the same. He took the most recent custodian test and is hoping to get his license. But, he says, no matter where his career goes, he’ll never forget the place that gave him his start.
Ilarraza was born into a big family in Puerto Rico, and came to New York as a child and now lives in Brooklyn. He has two daughters, whose names are tattooed on the insides of his wrists. His oldest is about to graduate from college, where she’s studying criminal justice. His pride is evident when he talks about their grades and their dedication. When he’s not at work he likes to go deer hunting with a friend upstate.
“Kids do the darndest things, but I have kids and I understand." Jose Ilarraza