Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Nailing Down a Future Residents Get Job Education in Alma Units

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Nailing Down a Future Residents Get Job Education in Alma Units

Article excerpt

ALMA -- Sixteen public housing residents will trade their

hammers for diplomas today after completing a unique program

that trains them in property maintenance and electrical repairs.

They are the first graduating class from a school that has

taught them how to make repairs at the Alma housing complexes

where they live and trained them for the workplace.

The Step-Through Resident Training Program, instructor Melvin

Bratcher said, runs 74 weeks -- 22 weeks in electrical

technician training and 52 weeks in property maintenance. Class

members split eight-hour days between classroom instruction and

work on the housing units where they and their neighbors live,

Bratcher said.

Rolanda Smith's prowess with a hammer and screwdriver can be

seen before a visitor steps through the front door, where she

replaced the screen herself rather than enduring the sometimes

long wait for a maintenance crew.

Inside, a ceiling fan that she installed sends down a cool

breeze. Her living room walls gleam with new coats of

cream-colored paint.

"I even painted the rails on the porch," she said.

Eva Jenkins was among the first who started the course in early

1995.

"It was hard when we started," she said. "There were no men. We

dug ditches."

They also broke up concrete with sledgehammers, paved a

driveway and installed outdoor lighting.

Formerly, her only job experience was as a day-care worker and

at the counter of a pizza restaurant. Now, she can apply for

higher-paying jobs at manufacturing plants that require better

skills.

Step-Through is a collaboration between the Alma Housing

Authority, the city of Alma, Okefenokee Technical Institute, the

Bacon County Department of Family and Children Services and the

Alma Resident Council, a tenant association.

Okefenokee Tech provided Bratcher; the Department of Family and

Children Services provided child care; and the other agencies

provided funds and a place to work and learn.

John Miles, executive director of the Alma Housing Authority,

said the Department of Housing and Urban Development allowed the

authority to divert property rehabilitation funds into the

program.

Normally, those "comprehensive grants" are used to hire outside

contractors that spend months working through the units,

repairing worn and damaged walls and floors, replacing switches

and outlets and fixing the plumbing. But with a staff of newly

trained workers on hand, the work is done more quickly, and the

units are left unoccupied far less, Miles said.

HUD is examining the program for possible use in other housing

projects, Miles said.

"If it'll work in a small, rural town, it'll work all over the

nation," he said.

The program changes attitudes as drastically as it does the

homes as participants learn about a work ethic while earning a

paycheck. …

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