For many of us, the topic of work brings up thoughts of an arduous commute, a way to support a family and pay the bills, or how much time is left until you can schedule your next vacation. There will always be times when we see our jobs as a means to an end, but if we’re lucky, there will also be transcendent moments when we are part of something bigger than ourselves, when we know that through our labor we are serving a higher purpose.


Those are the people whose stories we tell in our latest book, Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work. People who have realized that the work they do is about more than just making a living.

In this episode of the StoryCorps podcast, editorial team member Cailey Cron shares insights into the process undertaken to cull though thousands of interviews and pull together a book consisting of 53 stories. She also shares a few of her favorites:

First, we hear from two men who spent more than 30 years cleaning up the streets of New York City. Sanitation workers Angelo Bruno and Eddie Nieves (pictured above) spent years as partners on a garbage truck assigned to Manhattan’s West Village. They were beloved by the locals who would shower them with sandwiches, coffee, and friendship. Soon after Angelo retired, they came to StoryCorps to share their definition of a job well done.

ogunniyi_extraBarbara Moore (pictured in the player above) was a bricklayer in Baltimore, Maryland, for more than 40 years. Her masonry work can be seen on many of that city’s landmark buildings including the home of the Baltimore Orioles, Camden Yards. She started hauling bricks when she was 21 years old and weighted just 115 lbs. At the time, Barbara was the only woman in the city doing the job, and at StoryCorps, she told her daughter, Olivia Fite, about how the older bricklayers treated her, and about one who ended up leaving her his tools.

The chapters in Callings are divided into themes, and our third story is from “Healers”—doctors, nurses, teachers, and others dedicated to helping. Ayodeji Ogunniyi (pictured above with his father) came to the United States with his family from Nigeria in 1990. He was just a young child when they settled in Chicago where his mother worked as a nurse and his father drove a cab.

Barb on Bridge

Ayodeji’s parents worked hard so that he could have a bright future and they pushed him to do well in school so that one day he could pursue a career in medicine. He was on that path—even enrolling in a pre-med program—when tragedy occurred leading him in a new direction toward becoming a teacher.

Ayodeji came to StoryCorps to remember his father and the day that changed his life.

We wrap up this podcast with a story from the “Dreamers” chapter. Set in Jacksonville, Florida, on the Ortega River Bridge, Barb Abelhauser (pictured above) left an office job that she hated to begin anew as a bridetender. The job required her to sit inside a tiny booth day after day opening and closing the bridge for boats that needed to pass from one side to the other. At first thinking she would only do the job for a year or so, she soon discovered that despite the poor pay and almost nonexistent benefits, bridgetending was what she was called to do.

Click here to check out our CD companion to Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work.

Click here to order Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work.

Like the music in this episode? Support the artists:
Mermote – “Monte”
Benji Inniger and Beret Ouren – “Minor Detail”
Menion – “Colazione su saturno”
Max Richter – “Vladimir’s Blues”
Yusuke Tsutsumi – “To the Sea”