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The Aquilian

Jhonny Daza: the man who always asks, “My friend, how are you doing?”

Jhonny+Daza%2C+janitor+at+the+Father+McKenna+Center%2C+has+a+complex+story+for+how+he+came+to+Eye+Street.+Photo+by+Matt+Podratsky
Jhonny Daza, janitor at the Father McKenna Center, has a complex story for how he came to Eye Street. Photo by Matt Podratsky
By Liam Passey–

Typically pacing around the McKenna Center with a smile on his face, Johnny Daza is known for his kind attitude toward the students who come to help him throughout the day. Upon entering the McKenna center, his signature phrase “My friend, how are you doing?” might be one of the first things a student hears. Although many on Gonzaga’s campus know of Jhonny’s signature phrase and recognize him as one of the community’s favorite people, many may not know his story.

Before ending up here, Jhonny was raised in the town of Aiquile, Bolivia. After high school he attended San Francisco Xavier University in Sucre, Bolivia. For five years Jhonny studied there. Once he passed his tests, Jhonny graduated proudly with a degree in economics. With his degree, Jhonny was ready to begin work. 

His first job opportunity came from his aunt who recommended him to a visiting American friend named Jaime Arroba. Arroba, originally from the nearby Cochabamba, Bolivia, was visiting looking to hire CPAs for his company in the United States. Recognizing the potential of this opportunity, Jhonny put on a suit and went in for an interview— an interview that did not necessarily go to plan.

“In my country, you wear [a suit] to show respect,” Jhonny remembers. “But Jamie did not like it.”

Simply because of his clothing, Jhonny entered the interview with a disadvantage. Arroba preferred a more casual attire, and Jhonny’s formal style approach did not sit well with him. Additionally, Arroba was not interested in Jhonny’s qualifications.

“Jaime told me he was looking for people with a degree in accounting, not economics,” Jhonny said. “But I knew everything he wanted me to know.”

Not impressed by his appearance nor his education, Jhonny still got the job. When the conversation diverged toward poetry, Jhonny recited his favorite poem entitled “Laugh Crying” by Juan de Dios Peza, a poem that also happened to be Arroba’s favorite. With that connection, Jhonny received the job.

After eight months of waiting for visa papers, everything was all set for Jhonny to move to America. In 2003, Jhonny moved from his longtime home in Bolivia to Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Once there, Jhonny was disappointed in the isolation and sadness of the area. It was quiet and empty, and he did not like the winters.

“I couldn’t believe I was going to live here,” Jhonny remembers. “It wasn’t easy at the beginning.”

Eventually, after some years working for Arroba, the CPA company began to lose its clients and was forced into being sold. Jhonny was left unemployed. Out of loyalty to Arroba, he remained in South Dakota for about a year. At a certain point, though, he did not want to be a burden to Arroba. Finally, after a total of five years, in South Dakota, Jhonny looked east toward a community of fellow central/south American immigrants. He soon found himself in Falls Church, Va. where he found a new set of problems, however.

“I thought they would help me,” Johnny said. “But no, […] not even your family helps. People are just dollar-hunters.”

Jhonny felt as though he was on his own and was in need of a job. For some time, he worked as a cashier at Harris Teeter and Giant then became a travel agent although he was still unhappy. So, Jhonny went back to Bolivia to discern his future. 

Jhonny was torn. His American Green Card would soon expire if he did not return to the United States, but he also had a good opportunity in Bolivia to work for a local city hall. After much deliberation, a long-time friend who was also in town helped him determine his answer. He could not pass up the opportunity to be in America. In October 2016, Jhonny left Bolivia for good.

Jhonny had arranged to stay a week at a friend’s house in Virginia to sort things out, but it was not enough time. Soon Jhonny had no place to go. Jhonny had become homeless. 

Having heard of more opportunities in Washington D.C., he made his way to McPherson Square at the heart of the city. From there, he followed a man to the men’s shelter on New York Avenue where he spent about 15 days.

“Going to a shelter for the first time is not a good experience,” Jhonny said. “You just feel sad.”

During his time there, Jhonny overheard talk of a place called the Father McKenna Center. After taking a visit to the center he signed up for its Hypothermia Program and was a part of the 2016-17 program. The program gives men experiencing homelessness a bed and shelter during the cold winter months. During his time in the program, he became the hypothermia program monitor and his hard-working attitude was noticed by the staff. In 2017, he was hired as the janitor for the McKenna Center.

Today, Jhonny still works happily at the place that once sheltered him, the Father McKenna Center. Day in and day out, he works tirelessly to uphold the cleanliness of the center. By doing so he ensures that the dignity of every guest who walks in is truly respected. His favorite part of his job is working with the students.

“Here, I do my job with love because of the environment,” Jhonny said. “I will never forget the students making these the best days in this country.”

His love for the students goes both ways. Many students who have had the opportunity to spend some time at the McKenna Center, say that their favorite part is working with Jhonny. 

“The happiness he brings to every student and every task he performs is unmatched by any other person,” said Aidan Friedman, senior. 

Johnny’s passion to love others and do good is what makes him a very special member of this community. He simply just has a way with people that allows him to touch the hearts of every volunteer he works with. 

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  • C

    Carol CorganMar 3, 2023 at 10:31 am

    Liam, your article is wonderful. Now our whole community knows Mr. Daza’s story!

    Reply
  • J

    Joseph GriffinMar 2, 2023 at 10:21 pm

    Jhonny has nothing but joy and love for this community. His smile, energy, and work ethic is something I look to for inspiration whenever I see him.

    Reply
  • H

    Harry Geib, SJMar 2, 2023 at 1:25 pm

    Thank you Mr. Passey for spotlighting Mr. Jhonny Daza! No matter the day, he always has an upbeat greeting and kind comment for everyone. He is such a good person and role model for everyone at the Father McKenna Center and our Gonzaga community.

    Reply