Cafeteria’s friendly face brings blessed day

Four students entered the Gannon University cafeteria and waited in line for their meal plan cards to be swiped. While they waited, they discussed an exam they’d just finished. One young man stated that he was happy that it was over. The others agreed. When it was their turn to hand the woman behind the register their cards, Chante Monique Woodard greeted them with a bright smile.
“Good morning!” she said as she slid their cards through the scanner. “Have a blessed day!”
The students continued into the cafeteria with smiles on their faces. Chante Woodard is a member of the Gannon community who is recognized by many on campus. She works for Metz Dining Services, a company employed by the university to run the food services on campus. Though many students know of her, not every student gets the opportunity to get to know the woman behind the register.
While Woodard describes the Gannon community as her second family, she also has two children of her own.
Woodard’s children played a large role in Woodard’s process of finding her current job. Woodard has spent the last nine years working for Metz, but this was not her original choice of profession. She attended Mercyhurst North East, where she studied to become a licensed practical nurse. Once in the field, she began working third shift. The hours were not ideal for her, especially with her children at home.
After seven years of working as an LPN, she was ready to pursue a different profession that offered better hours. That’s when she found Metz. “I just saw that they were hiring one time, and I applied and I got hired,” Woodard said. “I just wanted to work first shift. That’s how I got here.”
Woodard misses being an LPN, but is happier working at Gannon. She enjoys the atmosphere of human connection. “There wasn’t much of that at the hospital,” Woodard said.
Though she feels that she has not changed at all, Woodard has experienced many changes within the university and community since she began working for Metz nine years ago.
“When I first came here, you know, it was a little quiet,” she said. “Now, it’s fun. I like walking in the hallways. Everybody’s so friendly, and they speak out. Once people get to know who you are personally, they speak more. But when they don’t know you, they don’t speak.”
Socialization is a very important part of Woodard’s work routine. Every day during the week, she arrives at Gannon’s cafeteria at 6 a.m. and takes on the responsibility of creating an energetic atmosphere among her coworkers.
“I try to get everybody cheered up,” she said. “Because it’s so early, we’re all like, you know, mopin’ around. So I come in here and get everybody riled up. We do a little giggling and sing some songs. Then I come out for breakfast and I sit at my seat.”
Woodard’s co-workers are appreciative of her excitement each day. “It makes us bubbly and positive, too,” said Tia Polatas, a fellow Metz worker and friend of Woodard’s. “We feed off of her energy so it makes it a nice work environment for us.”
While Woodard assumes the role of cheering on her co-workers and getting them ready for the day ahead of them, Woodard’s energy is refilled by something else. Woodard said that it is the first student who enters the cafeteria in the morning that gets her going.
While interacting with students is an important part of her day, it is not limited to while she is working. Woodard is a familiar face in the stands at Gannon athletic events. “I attend all of the sports events,” Woodard said. “Whatever they invite me to, I show up to. They know I’m coming to the games and I’m gonna get the party started right.”
Woodard is especially close with the basketball and football players, who often visit the cafeteria after their practices. Joshua Jackson, a junior who plays on Gannon’s football team, recognizes Woodard’s dedication to showing school spirit.
“Chante is like that mother or aunty in the crowd at the football games or at the café that’s always energetic and uplifting no matter what,” he said. Woodard also uses her support of athletics as a parenting opportunity as well. Woodard brings her daughter and some of her friends to every game she attends. She does this to teach her daughter more about the college atmosphere, as she will be a senior next year.
Anita Peduto, a recent Gannon graduate and former swimmer, recalls a time she saw Woodard rooting on the team at a Gannon men’s basketball game.
“She was on the side of the court with her maroon and gold pom-poms,” Peduto said. “During halftime, the sideline cheerleaders were doing a cheer and Chante ran over to them. We were all cheering while she followed their lead and did their cheers with them.
“Even people at the game who didn’t know Chante got to get a small taste of the happiness she spreads around campus.” Polatas said she enjoys the spirit Woodard shows for students and the community. “It’s wonderful that so many love her and she supports Gannon at all of their games,” Polatas said. “She’s great, at work and outside of work.”
Woodard describes herself as being the mascot, even in her middle and high school days at Wilson Middle School and East High School, both in Erie. “I’m always happy, always liked to do fun things, and always tried to put a smile on somebody’s face,” she said.
Woodard’s goal of bringing smiles to students’ faces is a result of her close relationship with her religion. “My faith comes in real strong,” she said. “My faith goes a long way because the least thing you can do is put a smile on somebody’s face.”
Her faith is the origin of her signature phrase, “have a blessed day.” The reason she says this phrase to every student she encounters is to spread happiness and encourage students to talk more.
“Chante helps each and every student to be more optimistic, even during long days filled with many classes,” said Andrew Hamilton, a senior philosophy major. “I think that she continually is able to see the glass as half full because of her strong ties to her belief in God.”
Woodard, who attends Bible study every Wednesday evening, is willing to share her faith with the students beyond wishing them a blessed day. Woodard believes that celebrating religion and sharing her faith is important. She is willing to take students to church with her, for those interested in attending a Baptist church. “I’d come pick them up and bring them back here,” she said.
Her eagerness to provide opportunities for students to have new experiences on campus shows how deeply she cares about the community. She misses students when they are on breaks, and anticipates their return, especially those who take time to sit down and chat with her.
Woodard tries to get to know as many students as she can. “I try my hardest to remember everybody’s name,” she said. “If they take time out to learn mine, I’m gonna learn theirs.”
This extra effort does not go unnoticed. “It’s amazing how she remembers people,” Peduto said. “It makes you feel like special in a way.”


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