We spoke with Brandon a few weeks back about his experience at RW, how he uncovered his strengths and skills while he was with us, and where he is now. One strength (of many) stood out the most—his perseverance. Jasmine Thomas, RW’s Financial Capabilities Coordinator, worked closely with Brandon when he was in training. “He never let things that had a negative impact on him hold him back,” she said. And when we asked how he discovered that strength, he responded simply: “I’ve been on my own since I was 15.”
Overcoming All Odds
Brandon got to know RW while he was in the READI Chicago program at Heartland Alliance. “READI helped me a lot,” he said. The program aims to reverse the decades of disinvestment in communities of color by working with men who have been impacted by gun violence or were involved in gangs. “I learned about my attitude and my behaviors, how to manage my emotions.” READI also helped him get a job in a warehouse.
A graduate of RW came to one of his sessions at READI to talk about the construction trades, and he was curious. “He said how much he was making on the job, and I got really excited. They never talked about the trades when I was in school. I wish I knew about them a long time ago.”
But he had another hurdle to overcome before joining our training. One day, he was walking to the store with his young son. Out of nowhere, he was shot—in his head and his leg. “It was a mistaken identity. I had seven surgeries and they almost had to amputate my leg.” But he drew on his perseverance yet again and overcame all odds. “I was tired of being around people who didn’t want to succeed, so I did something.” he said.
Payment in Knowledge
When he joined the program at RW, he admits—as he chuckled—that he was in it for the salary. He learned all about basic construction fundamentals, safety, and how to use tools, along with how to handle conflict on the job site and communicate the right way with bosses. He quickly realized just how powerful the program could be even beyond the hands-on skills. ”The training program is about more than construction. They helped me with financial stuff, they really cared about what was going on in my life.” That openness takes courage, and Jasmine pointed out that he “was always honest with his life and where he wanted to go.” Perhaps most importantly for Brandon, though, was that “they saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself. They changed my life.”
That’s not to say that the program isn’t tough—It’s hard work. “You can’t be late, you can’t do drugs. They don’t pay you money to attend the program,” he pointed out. “But they pay you in knowledge.” He also found his first employer while in the program. “I met the team from McHugh Construction when they came out to the workshop to show us how to pour concrete.” He showed up and showed out that day, and the entire McHugh team was impressed. “I didn’t know anything about construction before I came to RW, but I didn’t miss a single day of training, and I learned a lot.” He landed a job with them in December of 2019.
Seeing Something Through
Fast-forward to today. Brandon is working for Power Construction on the site at 1400 West Randolph, in the loop. “There are 25 stories!” We had to ask if he worked all the way at the top. “Yeah, I’m way up there.” He works with a crew of 10 guys, building out decking and the framing needed to pour concrete. “I’m the youngest guy on the crew. They give me a lot of s**t about it, too,” he laughs. But it’s all out of love. “I learn something new from each of them because they all have different ways of doing the same thing. And they like teaching me because I learn fast.” His work ethic is apparent through the phone, so it’s not shocking to hear that his managers were dazzled by him, too. “I started out making $20 an hour during my first year, but I got a pretty decent pay increase!” And he’s part of Local 1, the carpenter’s union, thanks in part to McHugh’s sponsorship of him.
“I love working in construction because I can see something through from start to finish,” Brandon said. And he really likes being able to show his son, who is now seven years old, what he does each day. “I drove him by my job site last week, and I told him “I built that!” They play with his tools when he’s at home, and he even facetimes with him at work to give him a tour and introduce him to his crew.
It was abundantly clear to the team why Brandon worked so hard while he was at RW. “Being a good father is his number one priority,” said Jasmine. “Every goal he created for himself had his son in mind.” Brandon shared that it’s tough being a single dad, but his son motivates him. “I tell him why I go to work every single day. I want him to have what I never did.”
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