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Custodian’s passion reaches special students

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THREE RIVERS, Mich. -- He's a Three Rivers man with some big responsibilities, and an even bigger heart. Glen Carlson spends his days at Three Rivers High School working as a custodian with a true passion for helping others.

Carlson is more than a custodian to the students he cleans up after. He's a popular figure at the high school, especially to students with special needs.

"If I can give back a little bit, where’s the cost, right?" Carlson said. "Not a thing. That’s what it’s all about, giving back."

"I have a passion for this, you know, and these kids are rewarding."

Carlson's passion for helping others caught on with the students of Three Rivers High School in a surprising way. Carlson doesn't mop floors or take out the trash by himself; he gets a little help from some friends.

"Heck ya! He’s my bud, that’s for sure," said student Dillan Chapman.

Carlson says he started receiving help around the school a little more than a year ago. Carlson had to take some sick time, and in his stead the students decided to clean the school themselves until he returned. A good number of those were students with special needs.

"It’s a kind thing to do," said Chapman. "If someone sees you doing the right thing, it’ll pass on."

Since then, Carlson got himself involved in a vocational program at the school called "work-base learning," and now he mentors students who have an interest in cleaning.

"Work-base learning is the idea that students get credit by going out into the community or within the building and working and learning a skill or a trade and learning skills to get a job when they’re finished with high school," said Toby Gose, a special education teacher at Three Rivers High School. "When they get out of high school, some of them will need those skills because they don’t have them already, and Glen works with them really well."

A handful of the students Carlson works with have special needs. Helping them learn and gain confidence in themselves is important to him, as he acknowledges that he struggled in his youth.

"I want them [the students] to have the self-confidence in themselves to go out and do this," Carlson said. "This is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me in my life. I remember when I was younger, how challenged I was with things. Nobody was there to help me at certain times. If I want to pass it on to these kids I want to do it."

While he loves the kids and getting their help, Carlson still says that their school work should be their top priority.

But for the students, they say Carlson is the best thing that's ever happened to them.

"I decided to be a janitor when I get older," said Chapman."He is an inspiration for me. This is an awesome job for me to get, too."

"Glen is a really good guy. I love working with him," said Stephen Smith, another student at the school.

Glen is hoping to start a summer program for students interested in cleaning for a living. He said he could put them to work a couple days a week, and he is planning to find a way to compensate them for their work. Whether that summer program comes to pass is up to the school board.

Carlson retired from a Chicago fire department after 30 years of service before he moved to West Michigan. He has worked at Three Rivers High School for two years now and plans to be there for many more.

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