'I have felt very safe, taken care of, and loved, specifically because of the bonds that I have with my support staff, shared Staton.
Although Rehan Staton went from being a sanitation worker in Bladensburg, Maryland, to studying law at Harvard, he never forgot his roots. He first attended classes at the University of Maryland and later was accepted into Harvard Law School but never forgot where he came from and always had the desire to do something for the sanitation workers, reports The Washington Post.
“I remember what it’s like working that type of job,” said Staton. His father and brother also were sanitation workers and the family struggled financially. There were days when they had no electricity at home and little food left.
He came to campus last fall after attending school virtually in the first year. Though he engaged with students and faculty members, he made a special effort with custodians, cafeteria workers and security staffers. They were like family to him. “We text, we hug when we see each other, I call them aunts and uncles,” Staton said. “I have felt very safe, taken care of, and loved, specifically because of the bonds that I have with my support staff. When I see them, I see me. I view them as my equal. They are just my peers.”
Staton was accepted into Harvard in 2020 and will be graduating in May 2023. He was determined to give something back to the law school's support staff before he leaves. He thinks that they do not get the recognition that they deserve. In February 2022, Staton used his savings from a summer job at a DC law office to buy 100 Amazon gift cards. He also added a handwritten note to each card expressing his gratitude to the worker. Moreover, he asked each one of them how their lives could be improved on campus. Many shared that they felt like they were invisible to the students.
Staton made it his mission to change that. He began the Reciprocity Effect, a nonprofit organization to support the "unsung heroes" who work behind the scenes. The organization provides need-based grants and also recognizes workers. He shared his idea with Brent Bates, the assistant operations manager at Staton's former job, Bates Trucking and Trash Removal in Bladensburg, Maryland, and Bates wanted to be part of the initiative. He became the co-founder of the Reciprocity Effect. Bates was the one who encouraged Staton to join college. Bates and his father, who own the sanitation company, went on to donate $50,000 to the organization. Bates said that supporting others is "something we pride ourselves on."
There were also students who wanted to be part of this wonderful initiative. Among them was Lla Anderson, a Floridian in her first year at the law school. “Every day, I talk to support staff. We joke, we laugh, we confide in each other,” said Anderson, 24. “They’re my friends.”
In November, Staton and Bates initiated a "thank you" card drive in which more than 250 students wrote gratitude messages to support staffers at the school. They distributed it along with Amazon gift cards. “People were truly inspired to start taking things to another level,” Staton said. In the following months, he and a small team of students at the school raised more than $70,000 in donations, he said.
On April 17, they officially launched the Reciprocity Effect and organized an awards banquet at Harvard Law School, where they gave out 30 support staffers customized trophies honoring their work and also $100 Amazon gift cards. Students and staffers voted for the winners of the different awards and more than 160 people attended the event.
It basically gave an opportunity for support staffers to be in the spotlight and for the students to cheer them on. “They weren’t serving; they were being served,” Anderson said. “To see that, that was incredible. It felt amazing, and it felt like it was just the beginning.”
Staton has already secured a job at a law firm in New York City. He looks forward to expanding his initiative beyond Harvard to other educational institutions in the country. He wants the support staffers recognized everywhere else in the same way they did at Harvard.