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"A lot of people think we're a mom-and-pop operation, but the challenges are big."

The Mail, the Man, the Mentor

At his post. While Rod Toney goes about quietly doing his job, a few people have noticed how well he nurtures young people.

Rod Toney, who supervises 20 employees, is shown here with part of his staff.

There are hundreds of people throughout Hopkins Medicine who attend professional meetings. Most of the conferences are, to be sure, medical. But there also is a thriving sub-culture of employees at whose annual gatherings there's nary a mention of diabetes, depression or risk management. For them, the Johns Hopkins name can still pack a powerful punch.

Rod Toney is a man with a slight build who toils in the basement of the 2024 Building. His office has a minuscule window high up near the ceiling that's protected with iron bars. Even though he's spent the past 17 years working at Hopkins, he is hardly known in every circle of the hospital. But at the United States Postal Service, Toney is a minor celebrity.

On April 24, Toney found himself in San Diego, sharing a stage with the Postmaster General and NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell. Before a crowd of thousands, Toney and 11 others (including the CEO of Compaq Computer Corporation) were presented with the National Postal Forum's "Social Awareness Award for Mentoring." Later that night, the ceremony made the San Diego evening news.

Rod Toney really likes the mail business, says his boss Chester Wortham, director of special services. "He gets into the technical aspects, he networks with like-minded people. He's really good at networking," laughs Wortham.

He's also a people person, one of Toney's most endearing qualities, according to Wortham. "He tries to help folks be successful, and that's what makes him successful. He's a little guy, but he's got a big man's mind and heart."

Rod Toney attended Morgan State University in the mid-1980s, and to help pay for school took on two part-time jobs. One was with the Post Office; the other was with the nutrition department at Johns Hopkins Hospital. In a few years, his interest in school withered. And an opportunity to merge his two other interests presented itself. He bid on a full-time mail clerk position at Hopkins, and, not surprisingly, got the job.

"There's a science to mail management," begins Toney, who is now manager of Mail Services for Hopkins Hospital. "You need to stage it, count it, then sort it. All mail can't be treated the same."

Having a handle on statistics helps legitimize the operation, and Toney clearly enjoys his number-crunching duties. The JHH Mail Service, he will tell you, which comprises the hospital, Outpatient Center, Weinberg Building and Green Spring Station, moves 12 million pieces of mail a year, about as many as a post office the size of Essex or Woodlawn, and has a budget of $800,000.

"A lot of people think we're a mom-and-pop operation," says Toney. "But the challenges are big."

When Toney became a supervisor in 1991, he saw just how big a world the $118 billion mail industry is. He was brought along to national conferences and encouraged to learn more about the profession. Gradually, he began to change the way he viewed his role.

His next turning point occurred when Deborah Knight-Kerr, director of community and education projects for human resources, approached Toney about hosting some student interns in his department. He quickly became one of Knight-Kerr's most eager mentors.

Toney was always there for Knight-Kerr in a pinch. When other departments would volunteer to take one or two students for the six-week commitment, Toney would host nine. Furthermore, Toney does not just provide the students with busy work.

"I talk to them about staying in school, about the importance of education," he says. "We work on resumes, on job interviews."

The meticulous Toney also talks to them about dressing for work. He won't abide low- slung pants, and forces his charges to wear belts or else will hitch up the offending garments with neckties. "I will tell them, You don't represent your neighborhood when you come to work here. When you come to Hopkins, you represent Hopkins."

Some of the students Toney has mentored have graduated from college. Last month, one graduated from Frostburg State University with a recreation and park management degree; another majored in human resources at Towson University. Toney himself is working on a business degree at Baltimore City Community College.

Although recognition is nice, admits Toney, "You don't mentor to get an award. Everybody needs some direction. I didn't just arrive here. I got a lot of guidance and support-and still do."

But Knight-Kerr argues that the scales aren't as balanced as Toney would have you think. "Rod stands above the crowd," she says. "He takes an interest in these students and he takes time, and this in a period when we're all doing more with less. It takes a courageous person to say, I'll take on this kid."

The secret, she says, is Toney's positive attitude.

"You can't help but notice his stature."

-Mary Ellen Miller



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