Lucia Dominguez brings a ray of sunshine to NCC Community Hills Early Learning Center.
As a food service worker at CHELC, one of two early learning centers at New Community, Dominguez ensures that all of the children’s meals—including breakfast, lunch and snack—are served on time and meet dietary guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to Cheryl Mack, director of CHELC.
It’s the same routine each day for Dominguez, who is affectionately called “Ms. Lucy,” but she performs each task with a smile and a light touch.
“In addition to her daily duties, which include overseeing and maintaining a spotless kitchen, Ms. Dominguez can sometimes be found in the classrooms dancing and singing songs to the children and encouraging them to try different foods,” Mack said. Dominguez began working at CHELC in May of 2005.
Her day at CHELC starts at 7:20 a.m., when the students’ meals prepared by the food services staff of New Community Extended Care Facility arrives. Donning a hairnet, Dominguez cleans her work surface and lays out the cups, plates and utensils, with assistance from her colleague, Marie Payen, who also helps to serve the students at CHELC. Students are served breakfast by 8 a.m. and finished by 8:45 a.m.
Next, Dominguez prepares formula for the infant room teachers to feed their students. Then, she shifts to preparing lunch, which gets served by 11:50 a.m. Following that is snack, served at 1:30 p.m. In between serving, breakfast, lunch and snack, Dominguez races back to the kitchen to wash plates and serving ware.
“Fast, fast, fast,” Dominguez said of the pace of each day at CHELC. “I like working. I like the kitchen,” she added.
Born in Loja, Ecuador, Dominguez graduated from college and pursued pharmacy for seven years before coming to the U.S. Once in New Jersey with her husband, Dominguez worked at restaurants, setting tables and preparing salads, due to her limited English. When she became pregnant with her sons, now ages 14 and 12, she decided to stay at home.
The couple lived in Union City but moved to Newark after they entered a lottery for housing and secured a home on Central Avenue in 2004. Dominguez enrolled her sons, Michael and Gabriel, at CHELC as young children. It wasn’t before long that the then CHELC director offered Dominguez a job in the kitchen.
For Dominguez, the most difficult part of her job is communicating in English. Despite the language barrier, her effusive personality shines through in moments when she sings to the infants or offers a child a hug.
“She brings a warm and caring energy to her job function and is genuinely pleasant every day,” Mack said.