When Public Service Becomes a Divine Calling

It was Christmas eve and Alex Hamilton was getting ready to go home. Then the call came.

Alex Hamilton

Hamilton is a maintenance worker for Sacramento public housing and a member of AFSCME Local 146 (Council 57). The caller said she was trying to cook dinner for relatives arriving the next day but her oven didn’t work.

Hamilton knew this wouldn’t be a quick fix. By the time he got downtown his shift would be over, and his employer wasn’t going to pay him overtime. He could’ve refused to help the caller, but that’s not him.

“I ended up getting out of there past 8 o’clock at night and I certainly didn’t get paid overtime, but I got her oven up and running again, and I felt good about it,” Hamilton says. “I wasn’t going to let anyone down in a situation like that.”

Guided by Empathy and Compassion

Laura Cedidla, a technician who also works for the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency (SHRA) and has known Hamilton for 10 years, says that when Hamilton goes out of his way to help a resident, it’s not the exception to the rule, it’s the rule itself.

Cedidla nominated Hamilton for an AFSCME Never Quit Service Award, which recognizes public service workers who go above and beyond the call of duty in serving their communities.

“It was just so great to see his empathy and compassion for our residents,” Cedidla says. “He’s beyond amazing. He has incredible compassion and respect for others, especially people of lower income or less education. He treats everyone as equals. … We get customer service feedback, and it’s clear that our residents have great respect for Alex.”

Hamilton, who won a Never Quit award, has worked at SHRA for 22 years. For 12 of those years, he’s worked in maintenance, which he says is “the talent that God gave me.”

With a gift for figuring out how things work, he fixes everything from plumbing to electrical to appliances. But sometimes he comes across a person or a situation that moves him to go even further.

Like the time he helped a low-income client who helped others.

“She doesn’t have much of anything but she always helps others. This one time I saw her making a huge pot of oatmeal to feed her cats because she couldn’t afford cat food. So I went to the ATM and came back with a hundred dollars. She was very grateful,” Hamilton says.

His generosity comes from an awareness that things could’ve been different for him, too.

“But for the grace of God it could have been me in housing, hoping someone helped me with my problem,” he says.

Making a Home Through His Service

Hamilton is originally from South Carolina. His father was in the military, and every three years the family moved somewhere new, never allowing him to develop ties to his community. The family settled in Sacramento when he was in his mid-teens, and he’s been there since.

“When I first started working, I used to volunteer at a children’s home, because it was my way of investing in my community,” he says. “I felt like I needed to make Sacramento my own. I felt that it would become my town because of the labor that I would put into making it better.”

Through his years of public service in California’s capital, Hamilton has made a home for himself in his community. He’s built a sense of ownership. And his community, the residents he serves and his coworkers value his work and are grateful.

“That’s why God put us here, to help each other,” Hamilton says. “It makes me feel good when I have made a difference for someone.”

Cross post from AFSCME