Culture - Oct 11, 2022
Coming home to WaupacaRobert Cloud | waupacanow.com
Coming home to Waupaca
Since she turned 18, Gabriela Ocampo has relocated from Miami to Texas, then to Chicago, before finding a place she calls home.
Now 24 years old, she is living in Waupaca.
“People here are really kind,” Ocampo said.
She started as a temp in January, translating for Spanish-speaking employees at Waupaca Foundry. Since June 20, Ocampo has worked full-time in the molding department.
Waupaca Foundry began hiring contract labor about 18 months ago. About 20 of the laborers, many of whom are from Latin America, are now full-time employees at the foundry.
“There’s a lack of labor force in the surrounding area,” said Director of Human Resources Kirk Kallio, noting that the unemployment rate in Waupaca County is 1.7%. “Everyone who can work is working.”
Sara Timm, director of marketing, said that at full employment, the foundry would be stealing quality labor from other area companies if it continued hiring locally.
She also noted that the issue is a matter of local demographics.
“We have more Baby Boomers retiring than we have 18-year-olds, Gen Z, entering the workforce,” Timm said.
Stable employment, welcoming community
For Ocampo, the foundry has provided a stable, high-paying job and Waupaca has provided a welcoming community.
She was 12 years old when her family moved from Venezuela to Miami.
“I didn’t know a word of English,” Ocampo said. “They would bully me in school because I spoke Spanish.”
Ocampo noted that many of the cities where she lived prior to moving to Waupaca, people living in Spanish-speaking communities did not need to learn English.
“In Miami, everywhere they go, they speak Spanish,” she said. “They’re not interested in learning English.”
Although she loves her heritage, Ocampo felt a desire to move forward with her life. She aspired for a better income, a stable job.
Although Ocampo had not worked in foundry before, she had worked with an auto parts distributor.
“I used to sell axles and rotors for all types of cars, but not make them,” she said.
Kallio recalls asking Ocampo one day if she was happy: “I’ll never forget what she said. She said, ‘I’m more than happy, I’m thankful.’”
Noting that she has been on her own since she was 18, Ocampo said she was struggling economically prior to coming to work in Waupaca.
Kallio recounted another incident that reflects Ocampo’s personal experience in the Waupaca community.
“Gabriela said she had lost her wallet,” he said. “She had just been paid and all her money was in that wallet. I told her that if it was lost here, we should be able to find it.”
Later, somebody found the wallet in the foundry’s parking lot and turned it in.
Ocampo has married since moving to Waupaca and plans to buy a home.
“I never saw a lake before,” Ocampo said, noting that she had spent time on the beach in Miami, but it was a different experience.
“Cities are crazy,” she said. “I like little towns. I like the summer and I’m loving the fall right now. The only thing I don’t like is when it gets super cold and icy.”