WaveCrest Heroes: Rita Manzo

December 17th, 2018

It’s a story reminiscent of the tale of the group of friends who have been playing a game of tag for 30+ years. And while this tale may not be as old or complex, it’s filled with as much joy and care.

Rita Manzo, our WaveCrest Cafe lead at Casita Center for Technology, Science & Math, recently sat down to tell us all about the almost 3-year long quest of one of the school’s students who was determined to scare his lunch lady.

“It started late in his 2nd grade year or early in his 3rd grade year,” says Rita, recounting the beginning of the quest by the student, Angel, who is now a 5th grader. “One day I saw him sneaking up, and I said, ‘I see you, Angel!’ He came to the counter and said, ‘boo!’ and I said that he’d have to try harder to scare me.”

Rita Manzo, the WaveCrest Cafe Lead at Casita Center, with Angel, now a 5th grader.

At that point it was game on. Angel would make repeated attempts to scare Rita throughout the year at random times. He faced a tall challenge, as Rita doesn’t scare easily, and the array of tables and equipment allows her a comprehensive view of Casita’s WaveCrest Cafe. “The way we have things set up, I can see pretty much everywhere. So whenever I saw him try to sneak I’d let him know I saw him and he’d have to try again.”

The student has had his chances, and Rita recalls one near miss scaring. “One day he was coming up from a different direction and was actually crawling by the milk coolers,” she says with a laugh. “I was serving a girl who was in line and the girl said, ‘you have someone crawling on your floor over here.’ He stood up and had the most disgusted look on his face, like ‘really? really?’ He could have gotten me that day.”

Angel remembers that near miss as well. “I felt frustrated,” he says, and knew he’d have to keep trying.

Finally, just a few weeks ago, halfway through his 5th grade year, lightning struck. “It was just a normal day,” said Rita. “I was working as usual and he must have come up from behind the milk coolers. I had turned my back to the window where we serve meals, and he popped up by the window the same way he’d done a lot of other times. He didn’t say, ‘boo!’ or, “I got you!’ He just sort of stood there, and when I turned around I said, “Oh! You got me!”

Rita recalls the joy of the moment for both of them. “I was more startled than scared, but I knew that he’d finally done it. He got the biggest smile on his face and we both laughed.” Says Angel of his triumph, “It felt exciting. I had a rush because I finally got her.”

After nearly three years, Angel was finally able to scare Rita.

When asked what motivated him to start the game, Angel explained, “I felt I could create a connection with the lunch ladies, because I know the hard work they put into these lunches.” He says that several of his friends have been aware of the game, and no doubt word has spread across the school.

Now that the goal has been reached, the question remains as to whether the game will continue. Says Rita, “He hasn’t tried to scare me once since then. It was so cute, and I’m going to miss that, because he’s a 5th grader and he’s going to be leaving us this year.”

Angel admits that he’s held off on further attempts to scare Rita, and then, smiling, adds, “but I think I’ll be going for it again.”

“I felt I could create a connection with the lunch ladies, because I know the hard work they put into these lunches.”

The story is just another illustration of the care and character of our team. Says Rita, “my lunch lady when I was younger was like a 2nd mom to me. In fact, I worked in the cafeteria when I was in 5th and 6th grade. She was the most sweet, gentle and loving woman. And I’ve kind of molded myself into that in terms of how she treated and cared for us as students.”

Time and again our team dispels the cartoony stereotypes of lunch ladies and shows the real substance of the team that serves our schools every day. Speaking about stories like her game with her 5th grader, Rita says, “For us to make a connection to a kid like that disproves the myths of lunch ladies. Of course we are focused in getting the kids through the line, but it’s nice to make that kind of connection even though we are pressed for time every day. We can take those few seconds out to give that kid that enjoyment.”

Says Rita about their role. “We’re often the first ones they see so I say hi to them every day. And that’s my goal, to make the kids feel welcome and know that they can interact with us and have fun.”