When students first visit UT Health San Antonio they are likely to be greeted with one particular smile. Michael Contreras or better known around the UT Health community as Smiley started working here around 11 years ago. Since then his upbeat and joyful nature have touched the lives of countless students, faculty, and staff.
He recalled a story that resonated with him. It was a passenger from some time ago that recognized his beaming smile.
“She told me, aSmiley I wanna first thank you so much because when I would come into the bus we were so frustrated, anxious, and stressed. Your smile took my cares away and I felt blessed that you smiled upon me everyday and all of us here at the school.’ I hadn’t seen her in so long and I couldn’t believe that she remembered me. It was such a blessing to be remembered that way and that is how I always want to be remembered by, as the person that smiles and help anybody that is in need.”
His name was first given to him in his early days here when co-workers started noticing his positive energy. It has now since stuck.
“When I first started and was working at the police department, they started calling me Smiley. Ever since then and it has kind of grown on to me. Sometimes I will introduce myself to new people as Smiley and then I have to apologize and say oh my name is Michael actually they just call me Smiley around here.”
Before joining the community at UT Health San Antonio, he was a food service worker at a middle school in the Northside Independent School District. He enjoyed working with the younger students there and just like here at UT Health, made an impact on them. After being there for three years, he and his friend made the front page cover of the student newspaper.
“We were very popular around the school because we were known to give them a little extra. We weren’t supposed to but I thought the portions were very small and I know that I myself as a child would still be very hungry.”
Outside of being an employee here, Michael takes up many hobbies such as playing the guitar, sketching, painting, and drawing. One of his artistic influences is Bob Ross, an oil painter with a heartening personality that caught the attention of many others with his show The Joy of Painting. Although not a big on exercise himself, he likes to accompany his wife on walks so “she doesn’t feel too lonely.” When he is not doing that he likes to spend time with his family and friends.
About two years ago, Michael got diagnosed with kidney cancer and unfortunately lost his right kidney but says that the UT Health community treated him well during his time of need.
“During that time that I had cancer everybody here supported me with prayers and checked up on me to see how I was doing. The atmosphere here is just very positive and it impacted me greatly during my time being sick.”
Like many others he has dreams to travel outside of the country. He is hoping to visit Germany because his family originated from there. His great grandfather came to Fredericksburg, Texas during World War I and opened up his own bakery.
At the moment he is saving up to be able to get his degree and is waiting for his wife to finish off her degree as well.
“In the future, God willing I hope to become a computer programmer, that is my main goal. I just hope wherever I am that I am helping people out. I just want to be a good asset to everybody that I come across”.
His favorite thing about working here is the people. He states, “when I have passengers I don’t really view them as passengers, I look at them as my family members as they are the reason why I keep going.”
“I get excited to talk to them and as a shuttle driver I like to make sure that my passengers are very comfortable as well so they can have a positive ride. I also enjoy making everybody laugh. What I like to do is put a smile on those who I come across. I think that is a blessing to see someone smile and it makes my day.”
When asked for advice about how to stay positive he had plenty to say and wanted to make sure that the most important thing is to “keep smiling, always keep your head up, have some faith in God, always be true to yourself, and always follow through with your goals without letting anything stop you.” And as for his final tip-
“A smile a day keeps the frowns away.”