Think of all the little things that make or break your day.
Were you greeted by a kind man when you came to work that day? Did someone tell you a joke that made you laugh while you whiled away the hours stuck at a desk? Did somebody help you move those boxes when you threw out your back earlier that week? Did somebody help you change your car tire after you got a flat when coming out of the parking lot?
Abel Fernandez, lead custodian at Mount Sinai High School, is the man who makes people’s days, constantly, day after day, month after month, school year after school year. He’s a man who proves that small acts of kindness add up to a mountain of giving, and that is why Fernandez is named a TBR News Media Person of the Year for 2021.
Linda Parlante, the district secretary to the facilities director, said Fernandez “spends countless hours making sure his building is safe for the students.” Even as a custodian, he makes his love for the school and community known through every action he takes, whether it’s by attending many of the school functions, including being the first to volunteer during the annual Battle of the Educators faculty basketball game, rolling out the red carpet during prom, or always being there to purchase a cupcake or cookie at school bake sales.
Scott Reh, the district director of buildings and grounds, said all the students know him for constantly being there for them.
“The kids love him,” Reh said. “He’s a fixture in the school and in students’ daily routines. The kids see him, and he interacts with them in a positive manner. He’s a role model.”
Fernandez also serves as the Spanish language interpreter for the district, and even there he goes above and beyond. He’s been known to go to students parents’ homes alongside high school principal, Peter Pramataris, to communicate with them directly about what’s happening in a student’s life or how they can participate in district elections. Reh said that Fernandez has a way about him that “when he [talks to students and parents], it’s in a manner in which they feel comfortable. He’s a soothing presence.”
Nothing takes away Fernandez’s attention from his school work, not even recent personal tragedy. After his brother was involved in a severe car accident, Parlante said the lead custodian has been attending to his brother’s needs, driving him back and forth from the hospital, as well as managing his brother’s barbershop. Even with all this extra work, Mount Sinai school officials said Fernandez has never missed a beat in the district, and that he still comes to work wanting to give 100% of his care to the student body and school grounds.
“He has been the first on scene for accidents on district property as well as the first in line when an issue arises that needs security,” Parlante said. “If anyone in the building ever needs anything, whether it be boxes moved, a car jumped, a tire changed or help at their house, he is always available and never says ‘no.’ He has created lifelong friends from his work here and everyone would agree that Abel would give the shirt off his back to anyone who needed it.”
Pramataris has known Fernandez for well over a decade, having especially come to rely on him since he moved up from middle school principal to high school after the untimely passing of former principal Rob Grable in 2019. Pramataris said Grable had elevated Fernandez to the head custodian position “just because he also saw the potential in him.”
Fernandez is in charge of four custodians at the high school, and the principal said he always leads by example and “he’s always the first one to climb the ladder and do whatever needs to be done.”
What gives Fernandez his can-do attitude? Pramataris said it’s likely his familial bonds that, growing up, taught him the value of hard work. His mother, Angela, is a custodian for the Comsewogue School District.
“His personality is just pleasant, and as someone who’s been knocked down a few times, he could have probably given up, but it’s the last thing that he’ll do,” Pramataris said. “He’s just the type of guy that you want to help and support, and he does the same for you.”