March 4, 2008
Cordele---Many people worry about the future of their jobs as the American economy stumbles. Add the fact that companies have closed or significantly reduced their American factories and moved operations off-shore and that causes much of the workers' jitteriness.
Those who had a job one day and lost it the next can take comfort in an inspiring story of a woman who took disappointment and turned it into her second love.
Long before the sun rises, 65-year-old Juanita Johnson takes her shoes to her living room and puts them on.
"It's great getting up in the morning and getting ready to go," says Juanita as she laces her boots.
She repaired sewing machines for almost 30 years, and when much of the textile industry found cheaper labor in other countries, Juanita was left holding on to economic and emotional threads.
For six months she sat at home, got depressed and realized she needed to learn a skill to find another job, but she needed a high school equivalency diploma.
Forty-six years had passed since she dropped out of high school, got married and went to work.
She had doubts about going back to school.
"Have I got brains enough to do that," says Juanita.
The answer came quickly.
"I did it," says Juanita who had gained a little self-confidence with her victory.
"I might have a little more brain up there," says Juanita who visited with Brenda Butler of South Georgia Technical College's Cordele campus.
After a brief interview, Ms. Butler realized the College's welding course might suit Juanita.
"I just love to work with my hands. I love to put stuff together," says Juanita.
Welding seemed liked the perfect career match, and Juanita had something to offer, but didn't know it at the time.
"Her work ethics are just excellent. I wish all these younger students would follow her example," says Brenda Butler, a welding instructor.
Most of the students are young enough to be her grandsons, and they've welcomed her.
"It's like having a grandmother around you that can't spank you. She's just MeMa. She's just as sweet as she can be," says 19 year-old Daniel Fore who started the welding class in the fall of 2006.
Juanita brought maturity to class everyday, along with a deep seated belief.
"It's the desire to want to," says Juanita. "The want is on the inside; the want to not give up."
That deep desire is evident.
"She's motivated. She has a goal. She wants to weld," says Brenda Butler, the welding instructor.
Juanita wants more than blue flames from welding equipment. She wants to stay young.
"I'm not going to grow old gracefully. I'm going to run as hard as I can," says Juanita.
The 65 year-old welder feels and acts like a 50 year-old, and wants to work in the real world since completing her education.
Whoever hires her will get a dedicated worker who knows her skill very well, and have an employee who gives more than a dollar's worth of work for a dollar's worth pay.