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Nonprofit fights homelessness by training individuals in construction careers

As a former foster youth who grew up surrounded by drugs and violence, Roberto Lopez, 28, struggled to hold a job.

Lopez’s caseworker encouraged him to look into a new two-week program through HomeAid San Diego, a nonprofit working to fight homelessness, that trains people experiencing homelessness in construction skills, helps them start a career in the industry and addresses the labor shortage in homebuilding.

Lopez didn’t think a job in construction would work out at first.

“I always doubt myself,” Lopez said. “If I know I can’t do it, I won’t. But, they told me to give it a try and see where it takes me.”

Lopez was one of seven people to graduate from the first class of the HomeAid WORKS (Workforce Opportunities for Rebuilding through Knowledge and Skills) program. Afterward, he was quickly hired by the Lennar Foundation — a homebuilding organization and major supporter of the program — as a customer service representative.

Since then, he has been enjoying his job, saying it gave him “a second chance.”

“I was messing up before, and anything good that I had I would ruin,” Lopez said. “This time, it was an eye-opener. This isn’t just a job, it’s career-based… Coming from the foster care system, you really don’t have a lot of hope. I was lucky to be here.”

Six of the seven people who graduated from the program were hired in a construction-industry job within two months. Fifteen additional students recently graduated with an understanding of other career paths in homebuilding.

The program contains two weeks of technical construction training, both in person and online.

The second class consisted of a variety of people, including women, former foster youths, formerly incarcerated individuals and veterans. The students attended a graduation ceremony last week, when they received their certificates and free laptops to jumpstart their job search.

“I’ve been super excited to see this second class go forward,” Staci Reidinger, chair of HomeAid San Diego, said at the ceremony. “I can’t wait to get the emails and texts from all of you on your first day on the job.”

Several companies partner with HomeAid San Diego to offer interview opportunities to the graduates, though hiring for these positions is not necessarily guaranteed.

HomeAid San Diego also assists the students in researching companies, creating their resumes and writing job applications. The organization sends formal recommendations to the businesses to help the graduates secure jobs quickly after the program completion.

“One thing I learned in the class was how to read blueprints,” James Wheat, a graduate from the second cohort, said during the ceremony. “Then, I realized that my life is like a blueprint. Coming back into this class gave me a chance to straighten out some of the lines that I had incorrect.”

The organization also has partnerships with wrap-around service providers who work with at-risk populations. Program leaders also curate the content toward the student’s skill set to help them find a career path that interests them.

“We are dedicated to supporting this important program that helps individuals who have had challenges in their past rebuild their lives,” said Alan Willingham, who works with both Lennar’s San Diego division and HomeAid San Diego.

HomeAid San Diego partners with Promises2Kids and PATH San Diego to identify people who will benefit from the program. Workers from local construction companies also volunteer to serve as mentors.

Mary Lydon, executive director of HomeAid SD, said she hopes to eventually bring in a group of students every month.

Another group of students will go through the program in the fall.

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