Two weeks ago, as a new Americorps VISTA at Northside UP, I had the pleasure of visiting the GreenTrain class at the West Side Learning Center. Teachers Andy Erickson and Matt Centore were wrapping up the course and preparing students for their final exam. Bonds that had developed amongst the students over the twelve weeks were apparent in the way they compared notes and cracked jokes. “You guys are gonna do well,” Matt assured them. “Take your time and recall what you know.”
After lunch, I strolled with some of the class members over to the Habitat for Humanity Restore location where they have been honing their newfound skills.
Francesca, originally from Puerto Rico, recalled that she knew a little about construction before she started GreenTrain, having worked with her uncle. “The construction techniques are different in Puerto Rico,” she said. “We build a lot from concrete. There’s only one kind of weather so we don’t need insulation. I’ve learned that here.” Francesca has been the only woman in this class of eleven. “People thought I was crazy to try this,” she said, “but I like it… We’re like a family. I’m going to miss them.”
Peter, from Syracuse, identified himself as a single father with four daughters living at home. He recalled that the moment in GreenTrain that impressed him the most “was when I got to the shop, and we learned how to frame up a wall. I felt so proud of myself. I felt that I was in the right place.” He praised his peers, many of whom are new arrivals to the US. “I didn’t make positive choices earlier in my life. But they are younger. They have a chance to create stable foundations for themselves, for their futures.” He spoke of having gained confidence not only in building techniques, but in addressing life issues. “My goals are more obtainable today because of what I’ve learned about ways to overcome obstacles.” Peter hopes to gain experience in construction over the next few years and ultimately to work as a unionized employee for a large construction firm.
Fumiyaki moved from Tokyo last September to join his wife in Syracuse, her hometown. He recalled his first days in the class: “Everything was brand new. At first I couldn’t use a hammer. I’d never even touched power tools. At first I had fear. Now, my skill is improved. It took practice, and the other students helped me a lot.” Fumiyaki is also refining his English skills through the course. As for his goals, he said: “To get a job, to continue working and learning, to be promoted, and a house for my wife and me…That’s my blueprint!”
Francesca, Fumiyaki, and four other students have already been placed in full time jobs. Peter has a temporary position and is seeking permanent work. Three of our graduates will continue intensive English study before applying for construction or weatherization jobs. Northside UP staff will provide ongoing support as our graduates pursue full employment and financial stability.
We are always accepting applications for the GreenTrain and HealthTrain programs. Stop by our offices, call our Workforce Coordinator, Danielle Sheppard, at 315-299-8228, ext. 10, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.