Entering Rhody Market on a weekday morning can be a bit of a challenge. Between the long line of students awaiting their caffeinated drinks and the sweet treats greeting customers at the door in display cases, it’s not a surprise you’ve probably missed one of the most charming facets of the market: The University of Rhode Island’s senior food service aide, Vivien Whitney’s tasks range from inventory to prepping food stations and even covering shifts for student workers. She does it all!
After moving to the United States in 1992 from the Philippines, Whitney left behind more than just her childhood. Memories of her troubled youth were a constant reminder of the difficult lives many of her people possessed. The uncertainty of a bright future would not stop her from achieving her dream of a better life. At this time, her cousin knew of a man whom she thought Whitney would be fond of, and 730 days and hundreds of hand-written letters later, Whitney finally met the man of her dreams. Together they married in the United States and had two boys.
Her oldest son, Eric, a junior at URI, has proudly continued the family’s involvement in Dining Services. Dressed with a smile, Whitney shared her son’s story as a cook in Hope Dining Hall. “I want him to have a good future,” Whitney said. “I want him to finish his studies and get a degree.” Although her son has shown tremendous support for the department that has meant so much to Whitney, she knows he has an even brighter future ahead of him.
When asked why working for Rhody Market has meant so much to her, Whitney became noticeably emotional. Her eyes filled with tears as she expressed an endless amount of gratitude toward the university for giving her this job. She attributes a lot of her happiness to working with the students.
“This [job] is important to me,” Whitney said. “This is my dream job. I love to take care of the kids. You’re all just like my kids and this is my happy job.”
She recalls first applying to Dining Services, 18 years earlier and thinking she wasn’t going to get the position. She feared that her inability to communicate well in English would prohibit her from working at URI. She was ultimately offered the position because of her hard work and dedication. Only two of the many qualities that describe Whitney’s ethic.
Her son being employed by the university is only a small portion of the support she was received throughout the years. Eight years ago, Whitney’s mother also became employed by Dining Services. In her time at Hope Dining Hall, Lucy has become the ultimate sandwich wrapper. Rumor has it, her wraps are so tight you’ll never fear they may come apart, which takes skill. Â Whitney’s eagerness to share her mother’s story is a representation of the pride she takes in her work.
“I’m going to stay here forever,” she laughed. “Until I am 65 years old, you will find me at Rhody Market.”
Whitney has no intentions of leaving URI’s Dining Services anytime soon. That gives URI’s student body a few more years with this lively and giving individual. From her sincere smile to the excitement in her voice, Whitney makes the Rhody Market experience more than just a cup of coffee on a Monday morning.