“No matter how difficult the past, you can always begin again today.” — Jack Kornfield
When Jorge Estrada left Honduras for Texas in 2000, he was a young man with a plan.
He intended to go to work in the construction industry, make some money and return in a few years to his native country. Back in Honduras, he had a girlfriend whom he hoped to marry and a small business making chairs that he left in the care of a friend.
But life had other plans for Jorge. He worked for a year in Texas, installing sheetrock, insulation and ceramic floors. Seeing his success, a few of his siblings also moved to the U.S. But one day Jorge, who was then 26 and living alone, stopped showing up for work or contacting his family.
“After two weeks, we try to call him, and he not answer the phone,” his sister, Gladis Estrada, explains. “One of my brothers went over there and find him in the bed — almost dead.”
Jorge was rushed to the hospital, where doctors determined that he had contracted a terrible brain infection. Gladis had Jorge moved to a hospital in Nashville, where she lived. In all, Jorge remained hospitalized for 45 days. His recovery would be prolonged and difficult. He needed to learn to eat, talk, stand and eventually to walk again.
“He learned everything like a newborn baby,” Gladis recalls.
Jorge lost his girlfriend, his business, his ability to live independently — everything but his loving family, his faith in God and an unshakeable will to get a little better every day. His sister took him in and cared for him in her Nashville home.
By the summer of 2006, Jorge finally felt strong enough to hold a job. However, because he still walked very slowly with a limp and had limited English skills, he feared he would be unable to find an employer who would give him a chance.
A friend of the family who worked for Goodwill told Gladis her brother should apply there. Jorge fights back tears as he recalls that day.
“My sister tell me, Goodwill give work to people like you — like me,” he says.
Jorge’s sister took him to a Goodwill Career Solutions center, where he got help creating a resume and applied for a job processing donated clothing for Goodwill. Within just a few days, he was hired and began working in one of Goodwill’s downtown warehouses with a group affectionately known as the “A-Team” that includes about 20 people with disabilities.
A-Team supervisor Randy Buchanan said he has rarely met anyone — disabled or otherwise — with a work ethic to match that of Jorge.
“Once you give him a task, he is dedicated to it and won’t stop until he has finished. You have to let him know that it’s time for a break or he would work right through it,” Randy said. “It just exudes out of Jorge’s pores that he loves his job and wants to do it every day.”
Fifteen years later, Jorge still works for Goodwill. He now stocks merchandise on the sales floor at Goodwill’s Rivergate store in Madison. He has made tremendous strides, mentally and physically.
Another of his supervisors — Tammy Jones — frequently sees him going “ninety to nothing” on a treadmill at the local YMCA. Jorge’s benefits through Goodwill help him maintain a gym membership and pay for visits to the neurologist. And his paycheck has restored some of his independence — allowing him to help his sister with rent and bills and even to buy a car, which he now drives to work.
“I feel OK because I don’t depend on other people, I depend on me. I pay rent — pay everything. I don’t know what I do before, but now I know what I do,” Jorge says. “Now, because I have a job, I have a life.”