NIAGARA FALLS —
The construction students, typically unemployed or underemployed, divide their time between the classroom and a vacant house on Whitney Avenue which they’ve stripped down to its timbers. Rebuilding the house allows them to try their hand at a variety of construction skills, from blue print reading, to electrical, plumbing and drywall installation.
The classmates, six men and one woman, tell an assortment of life stories, but each has faced his or her own challenges before winning a spot in the program. Some of the students shared their stories during a recent lunch break.
—Darren Christian, father of three, is a wrestling and basketball coach for his son’s community teams. He was working at a local steel company until he was laid off a while back. At the unemployment office, he saw a brochure for the Isaiah 61 Project and was intrigued by the possibility of learning new skills.
Six months into the program and he’s already looking at his own home in a new way, imagining it stripped down to its skeletal frame, similar to the house on Whitney Avenue where he’s been working every day, and understanding more about what’s behind the walls. With more than 200 hours down and halfway through the program, he’s looking forward to his certificate of completion. “There’s a lot I can do from this point on,” he said.
— Jason Seaberry, also a father of three, wasn’t ready for college when he graduated from LaSalle High School in ‘98. Instead, he took a long string of low-paying retail jobs. One day, he accidentally hit the call button on his phone and dialed up an old friend who happened to be in the Isaiah 61 Project. Seaberry joined as soon as he could, because “I wanted something better.”
He still remembers what, his friend, Alionune Sow, told him on the phone that day, “You can always lose a job, but you can’t lose a skill.”