Whether it’s a one-of-a-kind picture, a caring word or a plate of pasta, Alvina Roberts serves up what people need in that moment.
On nearly any irregular surface – a coffee-stained napkin or a randomly textured wall or fabric – Alvina Roberts sees what many others might miss. From the Pizza and Pasta Counter in the college’s food court, she sees the shapes of people, faces, birds and more. Even in the faces of people at the counter, she has a knack for reading joy, sadness or frustration, all in the span of a quick lunchtime transaction. More than just seeing, she is connecting, whether through her art or a well-timed caring word.
“I like people,” she explains. “I could do this at home, but I’m alone at home.”
Roberts says her love of painting landscapes and sketching with crayons, pens and pencils spans as much of her 72 years as she can remember. Sometimes, she gets started on a picture by “dabbing.” She might crumple up plastic wrap and dip it into a light paint wash, dabbing the colour onto her paper. She lets it dry then sees what scenes emerge.
She admits to struggling in the darkness of a bad breakup back in 2012. To find a happier space, she began spending extra time at her workplace. For the past six years, she’s arrived to work in Food Services nearly an hour before her shift begins, setting up at a back table to colour or draw. Sometimes, students will approach her to watch or join in. Other mornings, she just draws in solitude against the background noise of students and staff arriving for their morning coffee or breakfast.
Her roles at Lethbridge College have changed over the years. In 2005, she came to the college as a student in the Health Care Aide program, graduating in 2006. In 2009, she joined the staff of the on-campus day care. The following year, a position opened in Food Services and she juggled both jobs before settling in at the food court full-time in 2011. “I really, really love my job here,” says Roberts. “I love the staff. I love the people I work with. I love the students. I love my job.”
Her caring for people shows in the connections she makes. She recalls one student coming to the counter looking sad. “I asked, ‘How are you?’ and she told me she was thinking about quitting,” Roberts recalls. “I said ‘If you don’t like what you’re taking, don’t take it next year, but finish this year.’ ” That student, Bethany Conrad, persevered and walked across the stage at Convocation in April.
Conrad, who completed the Digital Communications and Media program, says Roberts was in her thoughts on that day of celebration. “Had it not been for her, I would have dropped out,” Conrad says, noting two other confidantes were also key to her support system.
“I felt like I could trust her. She really helped me. She’s really caring and she’s a good listener.” Conrad says she tends not to be open with her emotions, but somehow Roberts could read her in the brief minutes they were together. Over time, she estimates she received dozens of pep talks from Roberts. “She just had this way with words that really helped me out.”