On Finding Community


Standing just inside the doors off Scoville Avenue, Mr. Cannella watches students arrive by the busload. In the mornings, he unlocks and keeps watch over the entrance, and returns smiles to students as they walk at an awkwardly fast pace to get out of the cold.
By the time the bell rings for First Period, Cannella has locked the doors and returns to the rest of the maintenance staff. He wastes no time in getting to work.

He begins with the to-do list, a compilation of everything that needs to be touched up at Fenwick. On the 15th, he replaces a few light bulbs, and empties a few trash cans. One day a week, he cleans the buses, and on another, he has to clean the area around the pool.

By noon, Cannella is working with the rest of the staff to clean off tables between lunch periods. At 2:30, Cannella can be found cleaning the kitchen.

For the rest of the day, Cannella could be anywhere in the building. “I help everywhere I can,” he notes. His day is always busy, and always different.

Cannella doesn’t need a job where things are the same every day to love what he does; the only thing that he needs are the people around him.

Cannella grew up roughly 5,000 miles from Fenwick, in a small town in Sicily. Because he grew up around only 5,000 other people, Cannella finds comfort in a community where “everyone is your friend; everyone is your family.”

In 1977, Cannella made his way west to America, and found home in Chicago. He began  working with the CTA, visiting run-down railroad lines and fixing them. As a small-town immigrant in the big city of Chicago, the transition was difficult, but he found community in other ways.

A few years after arriving in America, he met a woman in Chicago who, as he later found out, was from the exact same small town in Sicily that he grew up. Somehow, the two never crossed paths in Italy–but five thousand miles from their childhood homes, the two connected and were married in 1984.

Cannella then began splitting his time between the railroad and his growing family. The Cannella family celebrated the births of four children. For Cannella, family is the most important thing. So, finding family at his job was a necessity.

After working thirty years, Cannella retired from his work with the CTA, and joined Fenwick’s maintenance staff in April of 2010. It was here that he found the sense of community he was lacking in the big city.

To Cannella, Fenwick became “like a second family…They know you, and you know them.”

He walks the halls with a smile, popping in to classrooms to greet friends. Each year, as the Fenwick community grows, he meets people as if they had joined his family. He loves that, because of his job, he “learn[s] a lot, and meet[s] a lot of people.”

The Cannella family has also been growing. He is a grandfather to four grandchildren, and he talks about them with a proud smile.

Each day for Mr. Cannella is different. As he smiles at students rushing through the doors, he does not know what the day has in store. Though his immediate future is uncertain, Cannella finds comfort in knowing that he will be around his second family.