By SARAH LIPO
Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service
MILWAUKEE (AP) — Jotshua Vega Marcon typically arrives to work at a site where a house is being built on Milwaukee’s South Side a full two hours before his shift starts. And the end of the day usually finds him packing up and going home about an hour after everyone else.
Vega Marcon says he is determined to learn about the construction trades and that housing project he’s now assigned to has given him plenty of lessons.
When Vega Marcon, 23, first started working on it a year ago, “It was an open house you could see through, like a skeleton,” he said. Back then, he said, he barely knew how to hold a hammer. He turned to videos to learn how to build stairs.
Vega Marcon, a resident of West Allis, is taking part in the Milwaukee Christian Center’s YouthBuild program, which provides young adults ages who are between the ages of 18 and 25 with hands-on training in construction, largely by having them help build houses.
John Kaye, a project director at the Milwaukee Christian Center, is in charge of the housing work. He said recruits can “go to school half time, work on getting their GED (diploma) or high school equivalency and (also) learn to build a house.” All trainees are members of AmeriCorps.
Work on the 13th Street house began in October 2017, about the same time Vega Marcon joined the program after hearing about it from a friend. Building a house like the one he’s working on can take longer than a year, Kaye said, since trainees only work half days.
As long as people show up for work, they receive scholarship money. Vega Marcon is now a full-time AmeriCorps member serving as a construction assistant at YouthBuild.
“Now that I am a full-time member, I get more scholarship money,” he said.
He’s earned $6,000 so far. When he’s saved up enough, he plans to go to Milwaukee Area Technical College and become an electronics technician.
Lois Nugent, the MCC YouthBuild coordinator, noted that many trainees have felt anxious about starting a new, unfamiliar job.
“But, few of us have ever been handed a hammer and asked to go build a house,” she said.
Vega Marcon set goals to finish high school and seek training that would lead to a well-paying job, Nugent said, adding that he has earned a high school diploma and more than one industry certification.
Along with building a house, Vega Marcon said he learned to cooperate with others and worked to improve himself.
“It’s not easy. You got to be willing to be open-minded,” he said. He added that he loves being productive and busy.
Nugent said Vega Marcon stands out for several reasons.
“Jotshua realizes learning doesn’t stop when you get your diploma,” she said, adding that he looked for opportunities to go above and beyond to help others.
For example, Vega Marcon often volunteers at the MCC Senior Center, which provides healthy meals, recreation opportunities and health checks for people over 60.
Nugent said organizers at the center look for ways to make things better even when there’s little opportunity for personal gain.
Beyond providing jobs to young adults and building homes for the poor, the program demonstrates how far a person can go when given a chance, Nugent said. And shows the benefits training programs can bring to city neighborhoods, she said.
YouthBuild “also helps stabilize the rest of the block,” Kaye said.
“When people move in, they become part of a neighborhood,” Nugent said.
They are “invested in the neighborhood, and people take pride in their property.”
She mentioned a “rollover effect” on the neighborhood, adding that the people living next door to the completed YouthBuild house recently put up new siding on their house.
YouthBuild is supported by the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Department of Labor (through a partnership with the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board), the City of Milwaukee Community Development Grants Administration, HUD, and others, according to its website.