‘Work is like therapy’: Visually impaired man glows like a star at Miami Goodwill warehouse

Workers with disabilities perfect art of making U.S. flags for the Department of Veterans Affairs

MIAMI – When most people think of Goodwill, they likely think of thrift stores and bargains, but in Miami-Dade County, there is a patriotic mission happening behind the scenes and an inspiring man who is a part of it.

A Goodwill warehouse has a machine that is capable of sewing 800 stars an hour, but Jorge Proenza, who is visually impaired, is the real glowing start there.

Proenza helps to create flags of the United States, and he has been working on the line for 18 years. Half of them while visually impaired since he lost his eyesight to diabetes nine years ago.

“Work is like therapy. It’s a gift, and I can pay my bills and serve humanity,” Proenza said.

Lourdes De La Mata-Little, a spokeswoman for Goodwill, said the nonprofit organization is devoted to training and employing people with disabilities. She said quality is of the most importance.

“These flags are going to the Department of Veterans Affairs,” De La Mata-Little said. “Ultimately, they will be at the military funerals.”

The flags will be draped over the caskets of veterans. They will then be presented to the families, folded into a triangle, and given to the families for keepsake honor and memory of their loved ones. They make 450 flags daily and every stitch goes through a meticulous inspection.

“If something comes wrong, I take it out and do it perfectly,” said Iris Perez, who has worked for Goodwill for more than 16 years. “It has to be perfect. It is for the soldiers, to honor soldiers.”

Perez, who works with Proenza, knows firsthand how special these stars and stripes are.

“My father was a soldier,” Perez said. “We have his flag.”

Proenza and Perez both said they take pride in their work.

“The job, like the flag, symbolizes so many possibilities to someone like myself, Hispanic and disabled, who cannot work just anywhere, but I have this job,” Proenza said.

About the Author:

Jeff Weinsier joined Local 10 News in September 1994. He is currently an investigative reporter for Local 10. He is also responsible for the very popular Dirty Dining segments.