The seating at Beckman Institute Café is open and inviting, with skylights providing comforting sunshine for anyone sitting down to eat.
Tamika Dorris, a snack bar attendant there, gives customers a similar feeling.
The four-year U. of I. employee said she likes the job because the café is small and allows her to “do a little bit of everything,” including cashiering, cooking, serving and even supervising student workers.
She said she most enjoys serving customers.
“The customers that come through here – almost everybody – are wonderful people,” she said.
She said she goes out of her way to exude a positive attitude, even when her day isn’t going as well as she had hoped.
“It takes a lot for me to have a bad day,” she said. “I always think, ‘It could be worse,’ or ‘I’ve been through worse.’ I have a lot to be thankful for, so I smile and tell everyone to have a great day. Some people don’t even have today.”
The size of the daily lunch crowd has almost doubled in the time that Dorris started working at Beckman – but she says the staff has handled the increase well.
“I have a really great staff around me and my students are just wonderful,” she said. “My manager is understanding and loving, and she’s such a team player. She believes in getting it done together.”
Each shift includes three students – two running registers and a third in the dish room.
“I like working here because it’s so small,” she said. “It’s just me and my boss and a few students; it’s nice.”
Dorris starts each day at 7 a.m. to prepare for the 8 o’clock breakfast.
She said the word is getting out that Beckman is a great place to have lunch, and with its regular lunchtime concert series, Thursdays at 12:20, it’s becoming a great place to listen to music as well.
“A lot of people don’t know about our café, but they’re hearing about it,” she said, noting business picked up significantly when the cafe recently began accepting credit cards.
Dorris, who was born and raised in Champaign, had always aspired to work at the U. of I., working several food-service jobs in the private sector before landing extra help work.
Her mother also worked for years at the university, cooking and serving food at Lincoln Avenue Residence Hall.
“She always loved to cook,” she said.
Dorris lives with her mother, now retired; three of her four daughters, ages 7 to 21; a 5-year-old adopted son; and a cousin for whom she is guardian. She said the family goes out of its way to find things to do together, from regular movie nights to Tuesday night skating outings.
The Dorris family recently was selected to have a house built for it by Habitat for Humanity of Champaign County, its 65th home in the area.
"We found out right before Christmas," she said. "I'm so excited to own my home. It's the best feeling ever."
Construction starts May 4 and the walls of the new house are expected to go up by the end of summer. Dorris is required to donate at least 200 hours of sweat equity to participate, which may be served in the construction of the house or at its fundraising resale store. She has already started working at the store but plans to spend time at the construction site as well.
"I'm hoping not to put any nails through my hand," she said.
One of the advantages for the family is the house will have a yard to play in and be completely accessible, with wide doors and specially designed spaces that will help in the care of her mother, who uses a wheelchair.
Dorris described her feelings of being selected in the recent Habitat for Humanity newsletter:
"All my adult life I have worked two jobs to care for my children," she said. "I've always wanted to own my own home and to have the feeling that all of my hard work has paid off. Getting a Habitat home will not only allow me to be a homeowner - but to save for my family's future. I don't see myself as one of the lucky ones with a success story. I see myself as one of the blessed ones with a testimony."