The loss of his wife, his sight and subsequently his job, drove Miguel to self-medicate with alcohol. Once he committed to sobriety, Miguel was invited to work in Matthew’s Hope Moving Forward program. His journey to reclaim his life, his dignity, his joy, his independence, and self-sustainability, led him to our carpentry shop where he developed skills that shaped him into the artisan he is today. Moving Forward magazine interviewed Miguel about the work he does for Matthew’s Hope.
Moving Forward (MF): Miguel, did you work with wood before you started working at Matthew’s Hope?
Miguel (M): I did larger construction projects and painting. I loved working with a nail gun and shooting those nails real fast all day long. It was fun! But my sight started deteriorating and I just couldn’t see what I was doing. I started doing landscaping and stuff like that. My friends tried to help show me what to do but it was hard for me to work because I really couldn’t see much of anything. I had severe cataracts.
MF: When you came to Matthew’s Hope, did you start working in the carpentry shop even though you couldn’t see?
M: Yes, the first day I came here they put me in the shop with Greg (lead) and Sharlene (manager) and they showed me how to stain just a little piece of regular wood. They said the project was nothing special so I could just stain the heck out of it. Greg told me to try and look for a certain purple color and I could see it turn wet, so I was just guessing, guessing, guessing. I hoped that I was doing it right. Greg checked it and thought that what I did looked good. Then I started memorizing how long it took me to do a certain thing. I’d do that thing the same amount of time over and over. I learned to time everything mentally even though I couldn’t see it very good.
MF: How did you progress from doing small, simple projects to transforming solid wood furniture?
M: Sharlene gave me a wood chest and told me to see what I could do with it. It was an old chest and I started sanding it down. She said I wasn’t going to mess it up because it was going to get painted anyway. I started sanding it down and I was working out in the sun. I could see it a lot better than in the dark shop. Outside I could see all the intricate lines and details, so I sanded it all the way down instead of just a little bit for painting. Then I stained it because I had memorized how to do that. We sent it to the store and it sold it in two days! That was the first real piece I did. Pastor Frankie started posting my work on Facebook letting people know that the work was done by a blind guy. As I worked more pieces, I was still guessing about everything I was doing and I didn’t really know what it was going to look like. I just had to keep getting Greg in to check my work and he said it was looking okay. I just kept on asking Greg to check. But it wasn’t always easy. Once I was doing a china cabinet with all kinds of hinges and all kinds of doors. I took it apart by myself and it had these little, tiny screws. I couldn't see them but I took them out. When I put it all back together, Greg checked it and I had put all the hinges on backwards! I had to take them all off and then I got help because I couldn't see the screws. But that china cabinet sold in three days. It was worth it.
MF: How do you select your projects?
M: Most of the time I get customer pieces. But whenever I don't have a project, I go look for something in the storage area. I figured out that I'm real good at tables. I can make a table look pretty no matter how old it is. I've done some pieces that I would never think in a million years that they would turn out because they were so beat up. I find something and put it to the side and then when I don’t have anything to do, I start playing with it until before you know, it’s a whole brand new thing. The wood really surprises you. We had an item donated here and the people who dropped it off asked us to call them once it was restored. It wasn’t a client piece but they asked to see it before we sent it to the store. It was real beat up before I started working with it. When I finished it, it was amazing. The former owner came back in and bought it! It was 100 years old and had been in her family for a long time. They didn't think it could be saved.
MF: What have you enjoyed about the Moving Forward program?
M: Matthew’s Hope is a nice place. Like any place it has its ups and its downs and its frustrations. It can be challenging. My favorite moments here are really early in the morning when the sun's coming up. I don't care how cold it is, I will always beat the sun to work. I wake up, I work out, I take time to read a little bit of the Word, and then get ready to go. I enjoy the work and I'm at at what I'm doing.
MF: The intent of the Moving Forward program is to assist you into a life of independence and self-sustainability. You are close to graduation. What’s next?
M: Maybe I will become a staff member, like Greg, or maybe I will find a job around here. I’m still undecided. I'm comfortable here now but I wasn’t at first because I was barely into sobriety, and I was depressed. But as you can see, I've changed everything. I have made everything positive happen. I achieved the goals that I set for set for myself last year. And I'm happy. This is a nice place and I want to make the best next decisions for my life without rushing. I still have a lot of things that I need to accomplish.