Thursday, July 28, 2011

How Building a Shed can Lead to Finding Work

Learning in a classroom is nothing compared to hands-on experience.  This became clear on Saturday when the day laborers built a shed from the ground up.  Some of the men came in with backgrounds in restaurants and hotels with no practice in construction.  “I’d taken classes about using a saw before,” reported one day labor.  “But I’d never used one in my life.”  He had started out passing the cutting off to everyone else until the instructor came over and make him practice cutting small pieces of wood on his own.  Soon the jagged cuts smoothed out in to straight, clean movements.  This is the practical experience that our members find in the trainings at the Chavez Center.

The shed building project started last month with a workshop where the instructor, a day labor member himself, laid out the plan for building a shed.  As the instructor, Jose Luis Amador brings mastery in carpentry to share with the members.  His patience and thorough explanations to his students did not just start in this workshop, but rather over the years he has apprenticed several members taking them under his wing to teach them valuable skills in construction.  In the workshop it was no different.  Each student received the individual attention he needed to overcome the reluctance and confusion they had when it came to construction.  Not only that, but at the same time, they were learning the safest, more effective ways to carry out their shed building project.

Great teachers.  Great hand-on experience.  But "why sheds?" you might ask.  It actually serves as a perfect training ground for any construction project.  A shed follow much the same pattern as building a house, only on a smaller scale -- foundations are created, walls erected, doors and windows installed, siding attached, and a roof to top it off.  The steps involved in the process gave the students an opportunity to learn and practice a variety of specific skills that apply not just to shed building, but also to a wide array of construction jobs.  With this new skills set, the members can go out to work more often as employers come to the Chavez Center requesting specific skills.

But the skill set is not the only reason for doing a shed-building project!  Pretty soon, you could be the owner of one of these sheds.  Keep an eye out for more information coming soon.

Technology is Constantly Changing, and at the Chavez Center it's no Exception

Each quarter a new group of students starts classes at the Chavez Center. The process is always the same: a line out the door on the first day of enrollment, classes filling in just a week, friends of students signing up, turning people away as we reach capacity and advising them to come earlier the next quarter. One thing is for certain, a lack of demand has never been an issue for Chavez Center computer classes. This time around, however, the demand was perhaps even greater with new classes on the list.

Starting nearly 6 months ago, the Chavez Center surveyed the technology students to give our students a voice in what they wanted their program to offer them. The message came back loud and clear -- jobs. Without computer skills these days, you can count yourself out of a vast majority of jobs. Not only that, but our job seekers also need to be able to impress employers with a variety of skills and applicable knowledge. Technology skills are just one barrier though. Our Monument community clients also attempt to maneuver through job searches lacking the English skills to ever catch an employer's attention, let alone hold down a job. So language also had to be on the table.

With our scribbled notes on the results of the survey, we went to the drawing board. Accompanied by a focus group of computer class students and teachers, we got to work putting together the logistics and working out the kinks of this new idea. Career Track computer classes are what they came to be called. An intensive 6-month commitment complete with ESL. Students will walk away knowing the ins and outs of several software programs vital to their employment and English.

How did this go over with our students? At an open forum of more than 40 students, the focus group proposed the idea with unanimous positive feedback. The only complaint they received was, "Why can't you start this sooner?"

This month the Career Track launched for the first time -- just four months after the open forum. The Microsoft Office Suite track poured over the new textbooks they'd be using, unable to contain their excitement. Meanwhile the Media & Marketing track jumped at the opportunity to learn skills to help their business. Both have reached -- and even surpassed -- capacity, and both are taking advantage of the new workplace ESL classes.

The Career Track classes are a huge change to the face of the technology program, but one ushered in by our very own students and made possible by several dedicated volunteers. It was a long time in the making, but at last our students are getting what they wanted and needed.

The Biggest Flag in the Parade

“And here comes the biggest flag in the parade,” boasts the announcer whose voice is quickly replaced by the roar of the crowd clapping and cheering as the group representing Michael Chavez Center proceeds through the parade around Todos Santos Plaza, proudly displaying what is perhaps the largest flag I have ever seen.

The group had met on the 4th of July at an uncharacteristically early time in unusually cool weather.  Students from computer classes, members of the day labor program, owners of businesses, staff and instructors came together to represent the Chavez Center. Walking down the streets shouts erupted at every turn for the staff, the members and of course for the giant flag. Chavez center families and friends lined the streets as spectators excited to see their place of training, classes, or resources marching through the streets.

For many this celebration has become a tradition. Many members come back just to tote around the largest flag known to Concord -- other than perhaps a giant singing one -- and joining family and friends for a barbecue in the park. This year the festivities did not disappoint. After finishing their march through the parade route, the members packed up their signs and the flag to head out to the park where other members already had the meat cooking for them.

July 4th is a day of pride for the Chavez Center and its members. As they walk down the streets, they experience encouragement, cheers and pride for the people in their city and for the country they call home. For them the holiday is bigger even than the flag they carry can show. It is pride for the Chavez Center as they represent it, pride for their families as they gather to spend lunch together, and pride for their country as they lift the banner high. For on Independence Day they are visible in the community and they are praise as part of the immigrant nation created on that day.