A cheerleading enthusiast, a bowler, a future law school student, a former security employee and a 76-year-old mail expert — these are the people who help students anxiously awaiting their packages and assist those who don’t know exactly how many stamps to put on an envelope.
While their lives outside the mailroom are drastically different, the group has developed a sense of camaraderie in the mail center, calling each other playful nicknames throughout the day and ensuring that students receive their packages.
The Wheel shadowed the mail team April 13 to learn how students’ mail get to the center and about the personalities who operate the center.
Although their jovial friendships may seem years in the making, the five team members have only known each other for a few months. On-site Specialist Dionne Hollie joined the mail team because she “just wanted something different.”
Hollie said she previously worked in security in the Greater Atlanta area, but the hours didn’t accommodate her schedule. She now works at the mail center Monday through Friday and arrives before the center opens at 9 a.m.
As three students lined up outside the doors 10 minutes before the center was set to open, Senior On-site Specialist Steven Majette counted the money in the registers and prepared receipt paper, working quietly and methodically under dim lights until the top of the hour.
Excitement permeated the mail room that Friday morning as Site Supervisor Chelsey Renfrow entered and shouted an enthusiastic, “Good morning! It’s Friday!” to her team minutes before the doors opened. She found the remote and told Majette and Hollie, “Let’s put the news on, so we can see what’s going on with y’all’s president.”
But they don’t usually watch the news. Hollie, Majette and Renfrow, along with On-site Specialist Keyona Mills, are music aficionados — they referred to songs from Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” to Chris Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey” — and use streaming service Tidal to add some pep to their daily routine.
“We listen to the clean version of songs, of course,” Renfrow told the Wheel as she boogied to Cardi B’s “Get Up 10” with Hollie.
Some students bobbed their heads to the music as they walked in, while others were eager to pick up their mail and get to class on time. Between assisting students with their packages and answering phone calls, the mail team went outside to retrieve shipments from a mail truck. After transferring packages from the truck to the mailroom, Majette scanned the shipments into the computer and then stored them alphabetically on the shelves.
When asked what they want students to know about the mailroom, both Mills and Renfrow said, “We are not a post office.”
Although the Few mail center offers services similar to those of a post office, it cannot control the speed of shipping.
“We are the last hands to touch anything that you receive,” Renfrow said. “Nothing is brought to us directly.”
The center does not operate 24 hours a day, and as such it cannot honor Amazon one-day shipping guarantees. Before the Few mail center receives any packages, the shipments are sent to a processing center. As a result, Renfrow often encounters angry parents over the telephone.
“I was in college, and I know what it felt like to be in college and away from my mom,” Renfrow said. “It’s not just [working with] mail. I deal with parents a lot.”
Renfrow said that being a mother of three helps her communicate with and reassure parents, despite some parents’ odd requests — one mother wanted a guarantee that her daughter received the jeans she mailed to her that same day.
“I like dealing with the different personalities,” Renfrow said.
Mills, who has been working in the mailroom for six months, is the youngest employee on the team. She spends weekdays at the Few center and weekends as an assistant lead at the guest services and ticketing area at Stone Mountain Park. She hopes to coach cheerleading this summer at her old school, DeKalb County School District’s Stephenson High School.
Majette finds passion in a different sport: bowling. He is a member of a bowling league and boasts a personal record of 270 of 300 points. He also said he is a buff of the graphic design software Adobe Illustrator.
“I just like to play around with [the software], and I just like to figure it out,” Majette said.
That creativity translates to the job, as the mail specialists often devise resourceful solutions for frustrated customers and strange experiences. For instance, when a student received “36 packages in one day,” the team found a larger storage space to hold the boxes, Hollie said. Parents have even contacted the mail center via telephone and called team members “combative,” Renfrow told the Wheel.
“We’re tense because [the students’] tension is released on us,” Mills said. “It’s a lot, but we try to remain as calm as possible to relieve some of their stress.”
The tension is especially high during move-out, when students return Amazon-rental textbooks.
“I had a pile of books that were probably stacked up higher than me [last semester],” Mills recalled.
Despite the challenges of customer service, Renfrow expressed pride that her team remains on their toes. For every exasperating conversation her team has with customers, they experience a pleasant interaction. For instance, when a student came in to check his mailbox, Renfrow greeted the familiar face and even remembered his mail stop code (MSC) before he told her.
Renfrow, who has worked in the mailroom for one year, learned everything from 76-year-old and longtime Senior Mail Coordinator James White. But before coming to Emory, she worked at a temp agency in California, staffing law firms. She plans to begin taking law school evening classes later this year.
Her biggest pieces of advice for students are “bring your tracking number,” “[know] your MSC” and “be attentive.” Above all, “wait for the email.”
The mailroom’s move from a larger space in the Dobbs University Center (DUC) to Few Hall caused the team some frustrations, due to sidewalk obstruction from Campus Life Center (CLC) construction. But as long as the music is playing and the mail is flowing, this mail family remains upbeat. Mills added cheerfully, “Come in and say hey.”