Ten former public housing residents took a step toward becoming financially independent last Wednesday when they graduated from a Construction Training Program financed jointly by the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority and the City of Alexandria.
Graduates were recognized during a ceremony at Cora Kelly Recreation Center attended by Darrell Green, seven-time All Pro defensive cornerback for the Washington Redskins. His company, Trusted Solutions Group, won the competitive-bidding training contract for a program initiated under ARHA's HOPE VI Program.
Conceived with the goal of having graduates hired by developers working with ARHA on various projects, participants were all former residents of Samuel Madden Homes Downtown, which was demolished to make way for the new Chatham Square combination of public housing and market-rate units. Trainees were recommended by JobLink, a division of the city's Department of Human Services.
"This program was made possible by several city departments, as well as ARHA and City Council coming together. It was a truly cooperative effort," said Steve Martin, ARHA's HOPE VI coordinator and community builder.
THE SUCCESS of the program has inspired its leaders to start planning for similar programs in the future.
"We hope to do a lot more of this. We have the team and you have the community," Green said.
"This is the most impressive community we have ever worked in. The people here are real. This is about enterprize. And, we also will try to be the company that will hire as many of you as possible," he told the graduates.
"This program was not only endorsed by ARHA and City Council, but it also enables you to take these skills wherever you go in life," said Mayor William D. Euille. He was joined at the ceremony by City Council members Ludwig Gaines, Joyce Woodson and Rob Krupicka.
"The program you have just completed is a blessing. You have the blessing of everyone in this city. You have met this challenge and with your new skills the sky is the limit. As you look around just this city, there is an awful lot of work out there," Euille told the class.
"The toughest part of getting to the top of the ladder is getting through the crowd at the bottom. You have accomplished that.
Success is failure turned upside down. You have no excuse now. You have the skills and qualifications to succeed at whatever you want," he said.
LAMONT TERRY, a member of the class who served as a spokesperson, thanked those who had made it possible.
"We were constantly encouraged not to give up. This has truly helped us. As a class we want to say thank you to everyone that stuck with us," he said. The class presented letters of appreciation to their instructor, Eduardo Jibaja, and the sponsors of the program.
"These students will now be able to get jobs that pay more than minimum wage," said ARHA executive director William Dearman. He noted that the ARHA Board of Commissioners, who were represented at the event by chair A. Melvin Miller and Commissioner Ruby Tucker, "allowed staff to venture out to undertake this program."
In addition to Martin, Dearman paid special tribute ARHA staff Marye Ish and Elija Johnson. He also noted that the Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs, represented by Director Kirk Kincannon, had made the recreation center available to conduct the six-week training program.
"I am very impressed with this ARHA program. More than just providing shelter, ARHA is training public housing residents to be self-sufficient and that will help them the rest of their lives," Gaines said.
"This is money very well expended. Those that persevered and graduated are a credit not only to themselves but also to the overall goals of the program," he said. The class started with 21 enrollees.
"We will be doing this many more times. Alexandria keeps working very hard to make things happen for people," Euille said.
He also told the graduates, "If things are not going well for you, don't give up. Hang in there and have faith."
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Martin announced that seven of the 10 graduates already had job offers. Each was then presented with a tool belt, hard hat, safety goggles, hammer, work boots and a measuring tape, as well as their certificate of graduation. The course trained them in the electrical, plumbing, carpentry and dry wall specialties of construction.