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A Heart for Service

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Categories: Blog, Employees

Employee Margaret Stephens stands in front of the CATA Transportation Center

Margaret Stephens loves being the customer experience manager at CATA.

“I make sure our customer service representatives treat all CATA customers with respect and provide an excellent experience for them,” she said. “We want to treat each customer with dignity and get them where they need to go. It’s corny, but I’m one of those people who really loves my job.”

It’s not corny at all, especially considering the unusual path that brought Margaret to CATA.

Margaret grew up in Toledo, Ohio, and, due to a family situation, was homeless for the last half of her senior year in high school.

“If there was one thing I’d do differently it would be to go to college right out of high school, but I couldn’t wrap my mind around where I was going to sleep the next day, let alone go to college.”

The mother of a childhood friend let Margaret move in, with the understanding that she’d move out upon graduation.

“I took the city bus to my high school graduation, walked across the stage, got my diploma and took the bus back to their home,” she said. “I knew I needed to find a new place to stay, and I needed to get a job.”

Donna, another close family friend, took her in. Donna’s husband, Junior, owned an electrical contracting company – the first black-owned business of its kind in Ohio.

“Junior gave me my first job,” she said. “He paid me $200 a week, and he made me learn everything there was to learn about doing business. Payroll, reading blueprints, being on time to work.

“In a way, that was my college. There was so much he taught me in the two years I worked there that I knew for the rest of my life I was going to be OK.”

Margaret moved to Michigan, taking a job with Michigan Bell. Through the company’s tuition-reimbursement program, she went to the Detroit College of Business, then Washtenaw Community College, and ultimately earned her bachelor’s in business administration from Eastern Michigan University.

“In those college classes, they covered so much of what Junior prepared me for,” Margaret said. “All those classes made sense – even English, because Junior made sure everything that left his office was professional and grammatically correct.”

When she turned 50, Margaret told her family and friends that she wanted to work with the public. “Without community outreach organizations throughout my life, I wouldn’t be where I am now,” she said.

Serendipitously, a recruiter contacted her about a customer experience job with CATA.

“Right away I said, ‘Yes, set me up for an interview,’” she said.Margaret posing with CATA Director of Marketing & Customer Experience Lolo RobisonToday, Margaret is stationed in the CATA Transportation Center, helping people get where they need to go. Junior has since passed away, but their families have remained good friends through the years.

“I didn’t realize it until recently the impact he had on my life,” Margaret said.

She said she enjoys working with younger people who are starting out on their own life journey at CATA.

“I want to be able to influence them the way Junior influenced me.”

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Craig Frazier: What If?

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Categories: Blog, Community, Employees

What if?

That’s the question buzzing from our paratransit department lately. 

“What if the holiday spirit extended all year?” asked Paratransit Supervisor Craig Frazier in a department email. “If all the rules, boundaries and constraints were gone, what could we do to make our service better?”

Paratransit supervisor Craig Frazier at his desk

Some of CATA’s paratransit riders rely on our Spec-Tran service to take them to the Greater Lansing Food Bank. Each month, the food bank chooses a Saturday and a new location to launch a pop-up event.

“This often creates issues with our Saturday Spec-Tran service,” Craig said, “as the clients can’t always give us an exact return time.” He said for some clients, the food bank may provide a majority of their monthly groceries.

Thus, the paratransit department asked the key question: What if? 

What if we provided a special food bank shuttle for all participating Spec-Tran clients?

They answered this question last month, when they launched a six-hour bus run to the South Church of the Nazarene, November’s mobile food bank location. On a chilly, 20 degree day, volunteers of all ages set up food while our Spec-Tran picked up clients.

Greater Lansing Food Bank outdoor setup and volunteers

 

The Spec-Tran then drove these same clients home as they finished up at the food bank. They shuttled passengers in waves that accommodated their needs.

“This is just one example of what can be done to make a great service even better,” said Craig. The department is continuing to generate new ideas to enhance services.

What if all the rules and constraints were gone -- what could you do to help those around you?

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Ron DeLeon: Be kind, always

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Categories: Blog, Community, Employees

Bus driver with two little boys in CATA uniforms

Rin (left) and Ron's son, Thiago (right), smile with Ron. 

To say that Ron DeLeon enjoys his work is a significant understatement.

“I love driving, I love transportation, I love dealing with people,” Ron says, practically unprompted.

“I love my job!”

Ron has been driving for CATA going on 21 years. The Sexton High School grad is an animated guy with a passion for life, laughter and storytelling. And his passengers give him a steady stream of tales to share.

In the span of 10 minutes, he bounces from one story to another, including one from 2016 about a then 4-year-old immigrant boy named Rin who loved chewing gum.

“That one really got me,” he said.

Ron often drives routes through Michigan State University’s campus. For a time, when he drove past Bessey Hall in the morning, he saw a young boy and his mom waiting for the bus. The boy would always wave.

“One day, I stopped and gave him candy – I asked his mom first,” Ron said. “So, it turned into, whenever I saw him, I stopped to give him gum, candy ...  whatever.”

On one particular morning, Ron pulled over with his usual treat, but Rin gave Ron a pack of gum instead. His mom took a picture to commemorate the moment. She shared the post on social media, along with a story that got Ron’s attention.

She shared that she and her son had only been in the U.S. about three months, and her son was having a hard time adjusting to everything – including learning to speak English.

That morning, he didn’t want to go to school, but his encounter with Ron made his day, his mom wrote.

“You never know how you’ll impact someone’s life,” Ron said. “A kid waving at a bus – you wouldn’t assume he was having a difficult time.”

Now Rin has play dates with Ron’s son, Thiago. He has adjusted to his new school and enjoys going every day.  

What prompts riders to share so many pieces of their lives with Ron?

“I just enjoy talking to people,” he said. “I didn’t expect that when you’re that warm and receptive, you’re like a bartender or a therapist. They tell me everything.”

Ron mostly drives bus routes through Michigan State’s campus and is well-known by many students. He's also been named Best CATA Bus Driver in the City Pulse’s Top of the Town contest for four years in a row.

“I take my responsibilities seriously,” Ron said. “The safety of the riders is in my hands, but I love what I do.

“I’ve never had a bad day yet.”

Child's crayon drawing that reads: "Thank you. I heart 26."

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