Durham Tech helps students ‘build futures’ through community-wide initiative

three faculty and two students smiling, students are holding certificates

L to R: Shahiyd Viney, Peter Wooldridge, Ben Lock, Maryah Smith-Overman, Diontae Johnson Jones

Eight Durham homes now have been shaped up due to the efforts of the pilot class of the Building Futures Program.

The 14-week program launched in September and is made possible because of the Transformation in Ten Initiative, which includes Durham Tech, the City of Durham Neighborhood Improvement Services Department, Rebuilding Together of the Triangle, StepUp Durham, and NCWorks NextGen.

Throughout the course, students have been taught construction skills at Durham Tech in order to repair a few homes in their neighborhood. Their graduation is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 14.

“Our president (Dr. Bill Ingram) is fond of saying that the most important word in our title is community, and this is absolute example of what that means,” said Dr. Peter Wooldridge, Vice President of Corporate, Continuing, and Public Services Education at Durham Tech.

Building Futures was designed to help prepare local residents to enter the high-demand construction workforce. The residents targeted are ones who face obstacles to employment training.

“There is a need for construction labor and for more folks to get into construction labor to help rebuild the homes of families who need our help and support,” said Dan Sargent, Executive Director of Rebuilding Together. “We are really excited about the potential for this program.”

The homes that the pilot class repaired belong mainly to the elderly and disabled.

The first project student Diontae Johnson Jones completed was a wheelchair ramp.

“I seen how happy they were. It just made my whole body like warm, so after that I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to … put my all into (this program). So that’s what I did. I gave a 150 percent the whole entire time,” Jones said.

Graduating with Jones will be Shahiyd Viney and LaRico Steele.

The connection these students had with the homeowners wasn’t lost on Tyler Momsen-Hudson, Field Operations Manager at Rebuilding Together who worked with the students on-site.

“They make great connections with the homeowners (and) are very respectful to the owners,” he said. “The homeowners have taken to them, too. (The students) see it’s helping the homeowners, and they like that aspect to it.”

When the students came to Durham Tech, they were taught by Construction Trades Instructor Ben Lock.

Jones admits that Lock could be a tough teacher but was ultimately “fun” to work with.

“Mr. Ben told me personally that, ‘I see potential in you,’” Jones said. “When someone shows you that type of care, you can’t help but respect it.”

The students earned certifications in Carpentry I, Lead Paint Remediation, and OSHA. They also were paid $12.50 an hour and given their own hand tools.

“The whole idea of earn while you learn is becoming more prevalent,” said Alexis Franks, Project Manager with NextGen. “Employers need to be able to get skilled talent and get experienced talent, and this is the way we can kind of attack both.

If this is not a desired, long-term pathway, this was career exploration for (the students). … I’m proud of them. They’ve done really well.”

The idea for the program began through conversations exchanged between StepUp Durham and Rebuilding Together. For more than two years, the two organizations were trying to figure out how to make their general vision come to fruition.

It was when Durham Tech, along with the City of Durham and NextGen, stepped forward that the pieces fell together.

“These folks had a similar vision of how we can be better together and recognized the training needed (in this field), the career opportunity there,” said Tim Wollin, Program Director with StepUp Durham.

Durham Tech’s involvement with the program went beyond the teaching element. Maryah Smith-Overman, Director of and Instructor in the Construction Trades program at Durham Tech, helped Lock shape the curriculum and helped Wooldridge and representatives from the other Transformation in Ten Initiative partners map out the program.

“I have to say thank you to Maryah Smith-Overman and Ben Lock,” Wooldridge said. “They’ve done an amazing, wonderful job with the program, and, of course, StepUp, Rebuilding Together, and NextGen have been a pleasure to work with.”

StepUp and NextGen have supported the students by prepping them for interviews, helping build their resumes, and introducing them to potential employers.

On Dec. 6, representatives from each of the program’s partners gathered at one of the home sites to commemorate the conclusion of the first pilot class.

“It is wonderful to see this,” said Steve Schewel, Durham Mayor, at the event. “I want to congratulate you all (the students). I know it is not easy learning new skills, not just the technical skills, but the professional skills. … I know you are going to do great things, and we are going to be counting on you to do great things.”

Schewel presented the students who were in attendance with certificates of participation.

Recruitment for fall 2019 will begin in the spring. For more information, contact Wollin at tim@stepupdurham.org.