Once, Kamel presided over rows and rows of silvery fish. Now, books in their thousands swim past his discerning eye.
They are, in some ways, similar roles. But the road Kamel traversed between fish and books spanned 6,500 miles, 25 years and a lot of ups and downs.
It began in late 1980s when he was working as a seafood inspector in Egypt. The middle-aged family man had a degree in agriculture from the University of Cairo, and he loved his job. But when he was replaced without notice or explanation, Kamel decided to travel to America to improve his fortunes.
He arrived in New Jersey in 1990, alone and struggling to understand the American accent. Kamel’s native tongue is Arabic, and though he can communicate in basic English, he found it far more difficult to do so in the U.S. than he had in Africa, where a British accent predominates.
Nonetheless, he landed a job in a bakery run by an Italian-American and quickly made friends. His plan was to work hard, save his money and then return to his wife and three children in Egypt, but his friends persuaded him to stay in the U.S.
He resolved to gather funds to bring his family to America. Despite an outstanding work ethic, it took Kamel eight years to save enough money.
In 2000, the family moved to Nashville, and Kamel took a job at a bakery at Opryland. Things were going well, and in 2004, Kamel became a U.S. citizen.
About the same time, he purchased a gas station. But the new business venture failed after two years because of a price war with other stations in the area.
“I put all my money in this business, but business did not go up,” he says. The setback left him almost where he started when he arrived in America. He took a job at an area meat processing plant, but the man who grew up amid the desert sands found working in refrigerated warehouses intolerable.
“Too much cold,” he explains.
So, at the age of 63, Kamel once again had to make a new start. He visited a local government office to seek help. A worker there told him he could get free computer training from Goodwill.
Kamel had never had the chance to use a computer in Africa, and he realized that computer skills might be beneficial in his job search.
“I chose Goodwill, because Goodwill gave me the opportunity for training,” he says.
He participated in a basic computer class at the Goodwill Career Solutions center in downtown Nashville, and after completing the class in June of 2006 he was offered a job in Goodwill’s salvage department. Almost a decade later, he inspects and sorts books and other donated items for sale in Goodwill’s stores or for recycling.
Mary Stockett, Goodwill’s director of continuous improvement and post market development, said Kamel is an outstanding employee.
“He is very dedicated to performing a quality job,” she says. “He is a very hard worker and exceeds his goals. What’s more, he works very well with his fellow employees who love working with him.”
Thanks to steady employment at Goodwill, Kamel has been able to provide for his family, pay for a house and even put his children through college.
“I love Goodwill,” he says.
— By Chris Fletcher
Prior to joining Goodwill as its PR & Communications Manager in 2014, Fletcher was a professional journalist for
more than 25 years working at media outlets in three states, including the Associated Press.