Gratitude, Security and Trust
Gilberto is a friendly, grateful and newly-trusting man, who has been living in an affordable Maxwell Garden unit for more than a year. Originally from Puerto Rico, he had always wanted to live in Florida. With the living situation he encountered when he arrived in the state, however, he began to think he’d made a BIG mistake.
Wanting to learn a trade, Gilberto left Puerto Rico in 1999 for a job in Scranton, PA. The job was at a meat packing plant and he became a meat slicer. “I didn’t know anything about cutting meat,” he remembers. “But I wanted to know more.” He was excited to learn all the details of becoming a butcher, so he would have a real skill and could work in other places. Instead of cross-training him, though, the management kept him stationed in the meat slicing line, deriding his desire to work with a knife. Even so, he stayed there 12 years, living with a roommate and making minimal wages.
Gilberto moved back to Puerto Rico in 2011, when his father died. He inherited a small house and went to work at a supermarket, where he “learned the rest of the meat cutting business.” Though he only made $7.75 per hour, he now had a trade on which he could depend. After four years, he requested a raise. When the answer was “no,” he left Puerto Rico. Through an agency, he worked on different contracting jobs, in different states. He was a landscaper in Indiana and manufactured pipe fittings in a North Carolina factory. During these ventures, he shared living quarters with others on the job, a situation that created conflicts as their living styles were very different. He also went back to Puerto Rico during that time.
In 2017, the unthinkable happened. Hurricane Maria devastated the island, destroying the small house Gilberto had inherited from his dad.
With not much left in Puerto Rico, and Gilberto now at the manufacturing job in North Carolina, he went to Disney World with several coworkers. And because he’d again been denied a raise, he looked for a job in Orlando between theme park visits.
Success! He and a coworker got jobs washing cars at the airport and relocated to Orlando. These friends moved temporarily into the mobile home of a female friend and rode to work together every day. He was finally in Florida! Things were great; until they weren’t. Gilberto found that his new landlady had unlocked his bedroom door and gone through his belongings, saying it was her “right.” Knowing he was the one being violated, he decided to leave. He read about Maxwell Garden, took an Uber to visit and apply for an apartment, and called the police on his landlady when she kicked him out. Grateful to the police for how they handled the situation, Gilberto was able to stay there until his apartment was ready. His friend drove Gilberto to his new home.
All was not great yet, when he found out his friend had taken up with the landlady. That resulted in losing his transportation to work and, coupled with Hurricane Dorian, ended the car washing job at OIA. An industrious man, he immediately banked on his cell phone, brain power, and meat cutting skills to find a position within a few days at an Orlando meat packing plant. Gilberto worked there until March 28, 2020, when he was furloughed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In May, he decided to take advantage of Pathlight HOME’s Community Services Program, and met with his case manager, Syr Rodriguez, whose praises he sings. “She showed me how to fill out the unemployment application. She told me about the food pantry and how to get different places, [around town]” he says appreciatively. “I am very grateful. She asks about affording my rent.” With his unemployment checks, guidance from Syr and anticipated return to work Aug 31, he is proudly making it through this extra-tough period. “She’s the difference here,” he says with gratitude. ”She gives everything of herself to try to help you. She provides for all her [clients].”
In addition to being grateful for his case manager, Gilberto is happy with his Maxwell Garden neighbors, “People here want to share. They give from the heart.” He is also content with the property and staff, “for the security and trust they give me,” two feelings he hasn’t had in a long time.
And he now trusts himself, as well. Until a year ago, Gilberto had a life of moving from place to place, working hard, yet earning minimum wage, and having a ravaged piece of land in Puerto Rico. He knows “people outside” might not understand how content he is right now in his affordable efficiency apartment. “I’ve got my goal. I sacrificed myself to get what I have now…all the passing through I did to get to where I am now. I am very happy.”