Feeding Hearts & Minds

Jose Figueroa’s work ethic has been present since his days of delivering newspapers at the age of 14. Now, 38, the route may not have been what he envisioned, but it’s brought him to where he should be.

“It was a decision to keep going to school or take care of your family and everything I’ve done, I’ve done for my children,” Figueroa says. This year, he became a grandfather and now has even more of a reason to value his legacy.

Jose’s decision to return to school brought him to the Philadelphia Public Library at Broad & Erie to research Adult Education programs. The staff referred him to Mercy, he walked over to investigate that day and thanks to Sr. Maureen, he was starting classes the next week.

The Mayfair native dropped out of Edison High School during his senior year of high school because he had a daughter on the way. He worked in fast food, retail, and spent ten years as a manager at Foot Locker.

“I tell my kids that they at least have to bring me a high school diploma. I ask them, ‘Do you want to flip burgers forever or find something you actually want to do?’”

He is open with his children that he struggled when he was younger because of his lack of a diploma and the need to provide for them. “My kids are the most wonderful thing,” he says. As his face lights up when he talks about his children, it is obvious that in his own path toward success, he keeps theirs in mind. Jose is thrilled to learn about his 12-year-old daughter’s achievements in school especially when he hears her excitement in telling him. He calls his 16-year-old son a “math genius” and admits with a laugh that he’ll often ask him for help when studying for his GED.

Recently, Jose finished the science portion of the GED; passing before he even finished the entire exam.

As the manager of a lounge, his hours often include overnight work and he is grateful for the patience of the instructors at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries of Philadelphia, Inc. His customers often times provide him with inspiration as well.

“I’ve spoken to patrons about how difficult it is to keep going especially having been out of school for so long,” Jose says. “Then, just before my last test, one of my customers came in and gave me a small rock with the word ‘Faith’ painted on it. That belief from others helps with the belief in myself and I’m going to keep going.”

After he completes his GED, Jose will officially pursue his lifelong passion of cooking. The more diverse the better. He loves cooking Italian, Spanish, and Asian foods and hopes to learn more about Indian cuisine. He has registered with JNA Institute of the Culinary Arts in South Philadelphia and after 910 hours, he will have an Associates Degree, a Culinary Arts Degree, Pastry Degree, and Serving Degree.

His dream is to open his own restaurant and perhaps sprinkle a dash of his favorite hero, Batman, into the décor. While he recognizes the challenges that come with each opportunity, he has a tried and true mantra which keeps him going.

“You’re never too old to continue learning.”