Recently, we spent the morning in Gerritsen Beach with the young men enrolled in the Building Works pre-apprenticeship carpentry program. The 27 students were ending a seventeen-week-long training program, which culminated in a three week service project at a church that was severely damaged during Hurricane Sandy.
The students worked alongside their instructors, all of whom are union members and seasoned professionals, learning how to fit ceiling tiles, frame windows and caulk seams. Through a partnership with Heart 9/11, a volunteer disaster response organization and a Robin Hood Sandy Relief grantee, Building Works was able to provide its students with a real-life project while helping rebuild our community—a win, win for both organizations for sure.
When you first meet the young men it is difficult to believe that they are only 18 to 24 years old. Many of them have been carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders since they were very young; however, after a few minutes, you start to see their youthful optimism about their futures.
During their 30-minute lunch break, we spoke with one soon-to-be graduate, Eddie, whose unbelievable hard work is starting to pay off.
So, tell me a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in the Bronx near Pelham Parkway and attended Lehman High School, but I didn’t receive my diploma. I live with my mother, grandmother and little brother. I am the man of the house and take care of everyone. I got my first job when I was 13 selling shoes, but I couldn’t support my family and still go to school, so I dropped out. I ended up getting my GED through a program at a youth center in Manhattan called The Door*. After, I began working at the Whole Foods on Bowery.
How did you hear about the Building Works training program?
A friend told me about it. I decided to enroll and was lucky enough to get accepted. Things just had to get better. I needed to get a job that paid a decent salary or I wasn’t going to make it.
So what time do you start your day?
I wake up at 4:00am and leave my house by 4:30am. I need to be at Building Works by 8am and the train takes me over 2 hours.
But that still has you getting here by 6:30/7. Why would you leave so early?
I would rather get here an hour and a half early than one minute late. If you are more than one minute late, you are kicked out of the program. I don’t want to be the guy who goes through the application process and weeks of training to get kicked out for being late days before graduation… I work here from 8am until 3:30. Then, I head back to the city and get to Whole Foods by 5 or 6. I work there until 12:30/1am and then take the train home. It doesn’t leave me a lot of time for sleep – maybe an hour or two. I have no choice though. I’ve got to make it.
You graduated on Wednesday. Congratulations! Do you have a job lined up yet?
No. Not yet, but I will. I’m not going to leave Whole Foods until I get something more permanent. But it will happen. I need to make rent payments and support my family.
Do you mind me asking, how old are you?
These 27 young men graduated from the pre-apprentice training program with the skills and attitude to find success as they continue down the path to adulthood. We are incredibly proud to support the lifesaving work that Building Works does and the commitment of so many trainees. We agree with Eddie, “things just have to get better” and they are.
*Robin Hood has been funding The Door since 2006. Our funding supports their G.E.D. program as well as their college entry and employment placement services.