We are blessed to have a full staff of honorable employees at Southside Building Center – people like Israel Mejia. Israel is known to many of you because of his amazing people skills, and his eagerness to give you the customer what you want. But you may not know of his outstanding woodworking skills…or his fabulous life story.
When Israel Mejia was growing up in Mexico City, Mexico, he often helped his father and uncle build cabinets – an activity that their family saw as a hobby rather than a job. As a young man, Israel followed his heart from Mexico City to New Mexico, Texas, Michigan and eventually North Carolina.
The American dream may have beckoned him to the US, but it was old-fashioned hard work that paved the path to his success. Israel’s always shown a strong work ethic – whether it’s for building cabinets, cleaning milk machines on a dairy farm, babying chicks on a turkey farm, or working on a factory line for $6 per hour.
Today he jokes about how little he understood the English language when he first arrived to the country. During one interview for working on a turkey farm, he politely answered “yes” or “no” to the interview questions that the retired Army colonel asked him. Today, he laughs and says he wasn’t exactly sure of the meaning of all those questions.
At another time he was unsure of his language skills, his factory supervisor asked if he’d like to work at night. He was a bit concerned about exactly what that meant. Fortunately, a couple of ladies from Guatemala who worked there could translate and let him know that it was because the boss liked his work that she wanted to offer him a better paying job on the night shift. For a dollar more an hour, Israel would be responsible for preparing the lines for the day shift line workers.
The extra dollar per hour didn’t go very far; Israel desperately needed a car to get to work so he started a second job at the laundry in a local hotel. He would sleep in the morning after his factory work and wake up in time for his 2 pm job at the laundry.
Sometimes the very best jobs can almost slip through a person’s fingers. Israel had met another SBC employee, Augustine, through a mutual friend. Although he was interested in working for Southside, he asked just when someone else had been hired. Eventually Augustine let him know about another opening and introduced him to Joe Rogers who interviewed and hired him.
Israel started to doubt himself and wonder if he would make more money by going back to one of the farms in Michigan. Without telling anyone, he started planning and didn’t bother to show up for work at SBC for what should have been his first day. Once his family discovered what he was thinking, they asked him why he didn’t at least try working at SBC before he ruled it out.
On the next day, Israel showed up to see Joe Rogers and sheepishly said he missed work because he couldn’t find a sitter.
Joe wasn’t going to let him off the hook that easily. “You don’t have a telephone? You don’t know how to use a telephone and let us know what’s going on?”
Israel tried again. “Could I have another chance?”
“I don’t know.” And then Joe pulled a balled up piece of paper from the nearby trashcan. The piece of trash turned out to be Israel’s balled up application. Joe started to open up the paper and straighten it out again so he could read it one more time.
“One more chance” ended up being a good thing for Israel, Joe and everyone else at Southside. He worked hard and was promoted to assistant manager in the warehouse. All the skills he learned in two countries have come in handy.
He still enjoys building cabinets, meeting and helping people and doing a job well. The next time you’re at Southside, say hello to Israel. He can help you find what you’re looking for or show you how to get your next project started.