Robert Shuck, director of contracts, facilities and sustainability for Goodwill of Silicon Valley, worked his way out of homelessness and up the ladder through the mattress recycling program offered by Goodwill and GreenWaste Recovery.

Goodwill provides a local job program where individuals deconstruct unwanted mattresses by hand. The fabric is bailed and sold to carpet manufacturers, the wood is sold to mattress re-conditioners for use in new mattresses or other products and the metal springs are sent to metal recycling facilities.

Those hired for this work include the chronically unemployed and homeless veterans. Shuck, moved to San Jose in 1989 after serving in the U.S. Army and in time he would experience many ups and downs. He sat down with SanJose.com to talk about how he uses his experiences and determination to give back to a community to which he relates.

What has kept you in San Jose all of these years?

When I came out of the military, I just started working with LPS, like UPS, and when that went out of business, I got a job at Terminix and then started working in Silicon Valley warehousing.

I became homeless because I went to prison for six years. When I came out, I had nowhere to go so I went to homeless shelter and that’s when I found Goodwill. Goodwill had an outreach for veterans and  I came down here and applied (in 2009) for the mattress recycling program.

mattress-recycling-robert-shuck

That must have been a huge relief.

Yeah, I was looking for any job at the time, and I started in the mattress area. I was in the mattress area for about nine months to a year and was promoted from there.  I took over facilities department as manager, applied for operations manager and was promoted again, so I ran our transportation warehousing along with facilities … and I was promoted again to director of contracts and facilities.

How does it feel to be someone who started as anyone else in the program but worked his way up?

It’s good to give back. I try to take the people that come through the program and if they fit in a position we try to slide them in somewhere and just try to help them back. It’s good to see people get back on their feet and get back into the workforce.

What gave you the motivation to work out of homelessness to minimum wage and now director?

I guess it’s in my nature.  My whole life I had to work hard for work for anything I get. I was a high school drop out so that made it harder to work up in companies, but I’ve done that several places. I think everyone has those moments (when they want to give up) but in all of the places I’ve been and things I’ve done, I have always been able to not let that get me down and push for that next level.

What were some things you gained as an individual through being in the program?

[I've gained] opportunities and just to see that it can be done. When I came out of prison … being and ex-felon, you don’t think many opportunities are there and they gave me a chance to succeed. It’s good just to help people, and I think I can relate to those we hire and when I share my story, it motivates them and they see it can be done and there are also opportunities for them. When you come out of prison or when you’re homeless you don’t see a future.

Who is the most interesting person you know in San Jose?

My boss Mike Fox, because of what I’ve learned from him and the opportunities he’s provided for me.