Three years ago today, RW opened the shop door to our very first cohort of trainees. Our small team of four hustled to train 10 folks from across Chicago on everything from using power tools to building a shed (a project that each cohort still does today).
Three years later, our team has quadrupled in size, and graduates of that first cohort are out doing amazing things. Take Parish, for example. He’s a laborer at Bulley and Andrews now. Allen is working at Xced Design Build, and Chester is a lead installer at Elite HVAC. So many others since that first cohort have gone on to find their success.
“I think back to where we were in 2018 compared to now, and I’m in awe,” says Manny Rodriguez, RW’s founding Executive Director. “We increased the types of services we offer to provide more holistic programming. We’ve expanded into advocacy work and passed major legislation aimed at lessening the burden our underserved communities have to face. And we’ve led the charge on critical investments into the workforce system, recently hosting the Governor to announce new funding.”
We’re proud of how far we’ve come in three short years—half of which have been during a global pandemic. We’ve trained over 185 individuals and have placed 90% of graduates with more than 60 of Chicago’s leading union and non-union contractors. And we’re not stopping there.
“We recently bought our building and will be expanding in our current location. We just received funding from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to launch a new in-school youth program with community partners BUILD Chicago. And, most excitingly, we’re in talks to expand to a location on Chicago’s south side!”
We asked our team what inspires them most about the growth of the organization and about what’s next. Here’s what they had to say.
Jackie Gallo, RW’s Business Services Manager, has been with the organization since day one, giving her a unique perspective on our growth. She points to the improvement of program quality as an inspiration—all of which has been in response to the feedback we get from trainees, alumni, and our employer partners. What’s next inspires her most: “In addition to fighting for individual successes, we have a growing voice and reputation that’s allowing us to speak on more systemic issues oppressing our communities.”
New staffer Curtis Lewis joined the team as Employment Coordinator last month and is enthusiastic about our work. “ I’m excited to see all of the plans RW has in the works come to fruition and to be a part of all of the innovations to support our trainees and alumni.”
For Elvert Berry, RW’s Alumni Services Coordinator, growth translates into serving more people. “RW is expanding not only in space but also in staff, which in turn means that a larger part of our community will benefit— and that means more people will be able to provide a sustainable life for themselves and their families.”
Jasmine Thomas is another O.G. staffer, joining the team in 2019 as a program coordinator, and she’s constantly encouraged by the lives we’ve impacted. “A lot of the folks that walk through our doors see this as their last chance. After going through the program, they leave with goals and a reason to fight to do better.” And the future looks bright to her. “As we grow, we’re able to offer more effective services for trainees and alumni.”
New Program Coordinator Patty Delgado is “excited to be a part of an organization that not only works with individuals one-on-one to improve lives but also works at the policy level to fight against the systemic barriers that marginalized communities across Chicago face.”
Molly Moriarity, RW’s Program Director, is heartened by the community we’ve built over the last few years. “We’ve fostered such a strong bond between staff, trainees, and partners. I know everyone who has a hand in RW is driven by the mission and fully bought in. And I’m inspired by our future—expanding to help more people get into the trades.”
Social Enterprise Manager Chad Hagedorn draws inspiration from the need in our communities we’re filling. “We don’t have to spend too much time convincing people that what we do is needed and effective. We keep growing at such a rapid pace that it can feel overwhelming, but ultimately it’s because what we’re doing is so important. And with each cohort we keep improving.”
“For me, I’m excited by our potential,” says Crystal Hendricks-Kretzer, Director of Development and Communications. “We’re asking the right questions: How can we do better? How can we lift up whole neighborhoods through our work? And how can we close the wealth and opportunity gaps we see in our Black and Brown communities? We’re laying such a strong foundation for all that’s to come.”
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