Everyday Hero: Shirley Stephens

Posted: July 22, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

Editor’s note: This Daily Gazette feature profiles key people at Mason who “make it happen.”

Name: Shirley Stephens

Current Position: Catering coordinator

Years at Mason: Three

What She Does: Stephens is the voice you’ve heard on the phone. She books events on all three campuses, as well as some off-campus events. She helps with paperwork, discusses ideas and options with clients, and occasionally even works on-site at events serving food or making sure everything runs smoothly. For example, she served the continental breakfast for faculty at the Patriot Center during commencement.

Why She Chose Catering as a Career: Stephens worked for Giant Food Stores for 17 years until she had a car accident that severely injured her back, making her unable to lift heavy loads. She decided to start a catering business with three good friends from her church. “It was really fun. We did all kinds of special events, from pool parties to making cherry-related desserts for the George Washington Parade in Alexandria.” After that, she started working for Sodexho and moved into her current position at Mason.

Shirley Stephens
Photos by Evan Cantwell

On the Mason Community: “I love working with the faculty, staff, and students here. I treat people like I would my family.” Stephens helps coordinate the special orders that allow parents to send their students treats in the residence halls. In each of the three years she’s been here, she’s had to deliver a birthday cake to the same student, and usually he’s not there when she arrives. “I know him as Jason, and we always have to call him and tell him to come get his cake,” she laughs. “But I try to go the extra mile for everyone. If my children were away from home, I would want someone to go the extra step for them.”

Most Unusual Catering Request: The Krispy Kreme doughnut giant cake tower made for one of President Merten’s convocations. “I don’t remember how many dozens of doughnuts we had to go buy, but it filled the car!”

How Her Job Has Changed: Catering Services has expanded greatly in the past few years, moving from SUB II to a larger office space in the Johnson Center. The office has also taken on many more events, including off-campus affairs for companies and government agencies.

Her Work Philosophy: “Treat everyone fairly, and always remember there are two sides to every story.”

Her Vote for Best Place to Eat on Campus: Stephens loves the World Fare Market and any of the special display stations that Dining Services offers.

How She Spreads Her Love of Food: Stephens is very active at Ebenezer Church, where she cooks for its events. She also volunteers her time cooking for a homeless shelter in Woodbridge. When she ran her catering business, the group would also cook Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for the employees of Dominion Virginia Power who had to work on the holidays.

Best Part of Her Job: “My boss, Darren Fabian. He makes the job fun.” Stephens also likes meeting people on campus that she’s talked to on the phone. “People always come up to me and say, ‘Are you Shirley? I recognized your voice.’ It’s nice to put faces with names.”

How She Keeps Busy Outside of Work: Raising a family. Stephens has three grown children of her own, and after her sister grew ill, she took on five more, including a two-year-old. Stephens also likes to read (“I love murder mysteries!”), and of course, she loves to cook Sunday dinner for her family.

What Others Say about Her:

“Shirley is the type of person who makes it a joy to come to work. Her enthusiasm and wit, complemented by her professionalism, puts her at the top of the list of people who I have come to value and appreciate. Shirley’s loyalty, compassion, and dedication have inspired me and everyone she encounters.”

—Darren Fabian, Catering

“Shirley is a terrific asset for Sodexho and, I feel, is their ambassador of goodwill. She is a professional in every sense of the word—very knowledgeable, helpful, and accommodating to everyone she encounters. She goes that extra mile to make you feel like you’re someone special!”

—Aldona Gozikowski, executive assistant to Provost Peter Stearns

“Shirley is the most amazing and responsive person to work with. Her customer service skills and attention to detail are above and beyond the call of duty. She is innovative with menus and goes the extra mile to provide the finishing touch to all the events that she works on.”

—Kathryn Forde-Cosby, dean’s assistant, School of Management

“Shirley Stephens is a pleasure to work with and very knowledgeable about the Sodexho Catering capabilities. She is always willing to make the extra effort to ensure that an event has all the support needed. Always pleasant and cheerful, Shirley is a great asset for Sodexho at George Mason University.”

—Fred Wintrich, assistant dean, School of Law

“Shirley always has a smile when I see her and has the most pleasant voice. I call her on numerous occasions for anything from simple catering needs to elaborate setups. Shirley has been known to ask the chef to create something special for the occasion. She is truly exceptional!”

–Debbie Williams, administrative assistant, Office of the Provost

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