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Learn more about our Building Services Manager, Alex Feliciano, in this Staff Spotlight. Alex talks about his experience looking after our downtown Portland office throughout the tumultuous pandemic and social justice protests, his inspiration for working with United Way of the Columbia-Willamette and how it compares to other career paths he's been in and much more!
How did you get your job as a building manager? When did you join United Way of the Columbia-Willamette?
Alex Feliciano: I joined in September of 2019. I sort of fell into my position here at United Way when Tim Wolf left the organization. I had just been hired a few months before as an Operations Coordinator helping out with odd projects and being a receptionist more or less with the hopes of working up into another department at some point when the existing Building Manager Tim decided to leave. As I had already grown into the company culture and had experience in the Electrical Contracting and Property Management fields from previous jobs, leadership saw me as a fit replacement.
How would you describe your job to someone with no knowledge of our non-profit?
AF: I am responsible for the day-to-day maintenance of our 40,000 sq ft downtown office building, which entails ensuring our various mechanical and alarming systems are functioning properly, the exterior remains free of graffiti and hazards, the sinks and lights work, etc. I also manage lots of the daily operations for the staff such as mail, donation processing, phone reception and scheduling services for the building and staff.
A very important job I do is also directing callers in need looking for resources to other agencies and nonprofits to assist them. Aside from the day to day stuff I also run the building safety groups in whatever form they may take (OAT and Safety Team), procure equipment and supplies for staff, manage the meeting room spaces that we rent out to outside groups, help with ad hoc projects from time to time such as PDXAssist, as well as being active on several committees and acting as a sort of unofficial welcoming committee and point of contact for guests and new staff. I’m kind of the behind the scenes guy that lets our dedicated and skilled specialists in each department do what they do best without having to sweat a lot of the smaller stuff in the office.
What keeps you motivated to continue to work with United Way of the Columbia-Willamette and push creative, team-building events?
AF: I deeply enjoy the wellness committee meetings and our brainstorming sessions. That group is awesome and they are the engine of team building on the staff right now. It’s also one part nostalgia and another part aspiration. When I first began working here the culture was very connected and fun with in-person events and after-work happy hours with the whole staff. The building would buzz with activity a lot more than it does currently and even though the pandemic smacked us in the face a few months after I started, it still made a strong impression on me and I hope to seed and grow that kind of workplace environment again in the future with my fellow Wellies.
What is a highlight of your work here? Is there a single instance you can remember that left you feeling proud to work with UWCW, or encouraged you to continue your work?
AF: It’s hard to pick one moment or instance because working here fills me with pride all the time. When I read about the great things that Early Learning, Hands On Portland and our other various programs are accomplishing in the community it makes me glad to know I played a tiny, tiny, tiny part in helping all that good stuff come together. Helping others help others is a nice way to compound my personal positive effect on the world. When I get calls from individuals in need who remember a time that I helped them get pointed in the right direction is always a nice moment too. People remember when you are kind to them. I like being helpful so compounding that by helping others to further help others is perfect for someone like me.
What do you do outside of work?
AF: I’m an avid reader of mostly history and other types of nonfiction. I collect records partially because I love vintage music and also as a protest against a society where people increasingly own and control less and less of the media they enjoy due to subscription services. I’ve been making very, very slow progress on learning to play the bass guitar. I love to travel and learn more about the world and have made a tradition of watching a soccer match in every country that I’ve been to.
Who do you model your work after?
AF: I’m not sure if I can really claim any influences in a job where I mostly answer phones, forward emails and change light bulbs, but I have always enjoyed the thought of being a semi-hermetic caretaker or curator of some sort. Kind of like a medieval monk librarian in some misty mountain hermitage way off the grid, so I guess the trope of the dusty archivist in some musty old dark dank lair would be my model.
The concept of being a building manager throughout the COVID years seems intriguing, and lonely. How did it affect you? What did you do to ensure you were making an impact? Was it difficult to continue your work in the same capacity?
AF: It wasn’t so bad really. Like I said before I am kind of a hermit at heart sometimes so the isolation of the office wasn’t too bad for me. A few fellow troopers would come to the office periodically as well who I would see like Cindy, Evelyn and Ryan, so I wasn’t completely alone when coming in. The real hard part was that since I live downtown near the office, I really felt the deterioration of conditions in the city every day. I can’t control the state of downtown, but I can control the state of my little slice of it, so keeping the building from falling into disrepair was my small way of trying to keep a tiny oasis among the deserted streets and boarded up buildings. In the office the big challenge was coming up with ways to keep staff safe and operations functioning at a way that worked for everyone. A lot of that credit goes to Aaron in IT, but coming up with procedures and policies on the fly in the face of near complete lack of reliable information was a challenge that thankfully the OAT team navigated really well, so the lack of incidents in the workplace during the pandemic is a huge credit to that whole group for working those policies out.
What do you think about return-to-office policies? In your ideal world, what would office work (or the lack thereof) look like?
AF: I think my perspective is a little skewed as I have been coming into the office regularly regardless of the circumstance. The nature of my job is that I need to be physically present, so it’s hard for me to speak to other positions where they are more flexible with location. I see the value in what is now “old school” in person meetups for sure, and I hear it all the time from staff coming back for the first time in a while how nice it is to be back among your colleagues and interact face to face, so I am on board with a limited return, but I also understand the appeals of working from home. With the potential sale of the building I am choosing to maintain a flexible mindset on the office work environment of United Way of the Columbia-Willamette’s future. I just hope they find a reason to keep me around if the “building” in my title of “Building Services Manager” is no longer applicable at some point.
You always seem so jovial and laid back, how do you keep that demeanor and do you think there are aspects of your personality that make you a good fit for this job?
AF: I have had lots of what can only be described as bullsh*t jobs in the past. I’ve waited tables for families with screaming kids, installed lights and wires in crawlspaces really, really not meant for people as tall as me, built poorly manufactured and overpriced furniture for tacky vacation homes, catered to the whims of despotic Homeowner’s Associations, suffered the indignities of retail, delivered pizzas to demanding suburbanites and chased down shoplifters in the halls of Lloyd Center. Those jobs sucked and felt like soul-draining exercises in blending profiteering and humiliation. In comparison working here makes every day seem like a holiday, so perspective helps a lot in maintaining my attitude. I also work with great people and don’t feel the pressures here that are present in other work environments where you are competitive with others or trying to extract something from people. The measure of a person to me is not what they earn but what they give, so I think this place aligns with my values well and my satisfaction in that reflects in my everyday demeanor. I wasn’t this chill of a person 10 years ago when I was doing other things, that’s for sure.
What are you most afraid of?
AF: I have a fear of heights that compounds the higher up I get and while I love nearly all animals, I make exception for snakes who and are all sinister creepy little jerks. Irrational personal fears aside, my greatest and most pressing fear is for the future of my young niece and nephew, which day by day feels increasingly more bleak as the relentless march of ignorance, oppression and selfishness continues unchecked across a world devoid of meaningful leadership and almost anyone in a position of power with a combination of morality and backbone.
Are there any better ways that United Way of the Columbia-Willamette could support your work? What would your ideal job day-to-days look like?
AF: In my position, that question feels like it should be turned around. I tend to think about how I can better support the organization’s work, and probably will end up molding my day-to-day to fit the ideals of what is needed by the staff.
What’s something most of your coworkers wouldn’t know about you?
AF: I got to briefly pilot the Goodyear blimp at 9 years old. That was cool.
What’s the most important aspect of your job, in your own opinion?
AF: Making sure that staff has the information, materials and space required to do their jobs.
Do you plan on staying with the organization for the foreseeable future? If you could pick any profession to move into, what would it be?
AF: I don’t plan on going anywhere as I still really enjoy being part of this team and organization. The world is chaos though, so who knows where any of us will be tomorrow? If I could go back in time and alter my professional path I would probably have chosen to become a chemist, arborist or a blacksmith/metalworker of some sort so I could finally solve that tricky riddle of steel.
What are you looking forward to? What makes you feel hope?
AF: I try to keep a zoomed out perspective on all things, so while we as a society are regressing back to the mean of the brutal and vicious majority of human existence after a period of unprecedented peace and progress, I know that the law of averages means eventually things will get bad enough that the curve will have nothing to do but start swinging back up! Looking forward to that! On a personal level, I’m looking forward to another beautiful Oregon summer, the next movie night with my lovely girlfriend and her obnoxious dramatic-moment-in-the-plot interrupting cat, the next time the Timbers and/or Thorns win a game (and hopefully clean up their house) and to hopefully many more years of doing good stuff in the community with the staff here!
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