The Grounds Crew in Facilities works hard to keep campus looking its best, tending to gardens, greenery and trees. They are a close-knit group, said Grounds Manager Erik Trevino. That is one reason it is important for them to support each other in their professional and personal goals.
For Grounds Crew Leader Jeremy Mills that support came in the form of championing his goals of leading a heathlier lifestyle.
His team and supervisors are supportive of his goals. Mills is eager to share his story to let others know how important it is to make even small steps to support your health.
Pictured at left, a photo of Mills from more than a year ago and a current photo.
For student assistant Darius Lewis, a job with the Grounds Crew was a way to pay for his undergraduate degree -- but the support he received endeared him to UNT and he now works full-time in Admissions. Although he knew the Grounds job wasn't permanent, it gave him a chance to learn more about himself, his work ethic and taught him many valuable lessons.
Pictured at left, Lewis at his graduation party given by the Grounds Crew and Lewis outside of the Eagle Student Services Center, where he now works.
A trip to the emergency room in September 2019 changed Jeremy Mills life.
The Facilities Grounds Crew Leader was dizzy from an ear infection. But that wasn’t what worried the ER doctor. It was Mills’ high blood pressure. He hadn’t seen a doctor in 10 years so, after he left the ER, Mills scheduled a regular checkup. That’s where he found out he had a very high A1C – and was on the path to getting diabetes.
“The doctor said that if I didn’t change my habits that nothing would change – it was up to me,” said Mills.
He weighed 365. He decided to make a change.
The first thing he did was quit drinking sodas completely. Now, he only drinks water. After researching the best types of foods to eat he also transitioned to a low carb diet with lead meat, such as turkey and fish, and vegetables.
“I would warn people though, that most people who try to diet try to go full-on and make changes to everything they do. You can’t do that,” Mills said. “You’ll burn yourself out. Ease yourself into it so you get to a spot where you’re comfortable and you know you can do this every day.”
The food he eats is key to losing weight and getting healthy. He was already pretty active in a job that takes him across the camps to maintain grounds by the athletics buildings and by the Greek Life Center.
Still, it was important for him to incorporate exercise in his personal life. He began by walking a half mile a day but now he is up to two miles and three gym workouts a week to lift weights.
In a little over a year, he lost 130 pounds.
“I hit walls where my weight won’t change – that will happen. I tried to walk a little extra, but I would still hit a wall,” Mills said. “I hit a wall at 270 and I was jumping back and forth between 270 and 275. Then, at 250 I hit another wall. You hit that point and you think there isn’t anything you can do to get past it but if you stick with it, you will.”
Mills continues to keep himself motivated as he closes in on his goal weight.
“I keep telling myself that I have to do this. I’ll look at ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures of myself when I don’t want to get up to walk and tell myself that I have to – I don’t want to go back to the starting point,” he said.
“Jeremy’s transformation has been amazing. He has always been driven to perform his job at a high level but seeing his determination to improve his health has been inspiring to our team. It motivates the rest of us to adopt more healthy habits,” said Erik Trevino, Grounds Manager.
Those comments may be one of the greatest motivators of all.
“I live in a small town and I’ll run into people I haven’t seen in a while – their reactions, they don’t recognize me,” Mills said. “When I hear people tell me that I look great, it makes me want to do more. It keeps me going.”
Darius Lewis knows the UNT campus inside and outside – literally. As a student he worked outside in the garden beds with the Facilities Grounds team. After graduation, he took a full-time position in one of the most important areas at the university, the Admissions Department.
These two roles don’t have much in common, but in both Lewis said he was able to learn and develop himself.
“As a student employee in Facilities, I would water plants, lay down and spread mulch, make rock beds, and assist with other projects to make the campus look nice. I learned a lot about myself, including the importance of a strong work ethic and how to work in a group with a team,” said Lewis, who received his integrative studies degree in May 2020. “As a full-time employee in the Admissions Department, my outfit is different, my language is different, even the way I carry myself is different. It can become a fast-paced job at any moment, and I feel I always need to be ready.”
An Enrollment Customer Service Representative in Admissions, Lewis helps future generations of UNT students get closer to achieving their educational goals. It’s a job that aligns with his career focus of helping others.
“I am studying counseling, and personally, I feel it is my goal to help those who are not fully aware of the resources they have,” said Lewis, who concentrated on counseling, rehabilitation and communications in his undergraduate degree and is now attending graduate school at UNT. “Being a counselor would be a dream for me, and I can’t wait to dive into this program.”
Service to others has been a theme throughout his time at UNT. Lewis recalls one of his favorite memories from Facilities was when he and a coworker were cutting down plants by the Library Mall.
“There was a hot dog vendor near where we were tidying up and he was so grateful because the plants we were cutting down covered his station so students couldn’t see him very well,” Lewis recalled. “He wanted to show his appreciation, so he gave me and my coworker hot dogs! We were happy just to be able to help him.”
With a new role at UNT, Lewis feels he is moving closer to his professional goals, but he said he will always carry with him the lessons of service, work ethic and teamwork that he learned in Facilities.
“I want to thank all the people I have had the pleasure of working with in Facilities because I know I would not be the person I am without meeting and working with them,” Lewis said. “We have endured a great deal of work together. I am going to bring the same passion I had for Facilities into Admissions and make everyone proud.”