BALTIMORE — Inside a massive building on Brehms Lane in East Baltimore are classrooms and workshops filled with opportunities and second chances.
It’s the new building for the Civic Works Center for Sustainable Careers and its giving the non-profit the ability to train more than double the number of people it could at its former facility for sustainable, high-paying jobs.
In one workshop, trainees are learning about asbestos and lead removal, which is part of the Brownfields career track. Jzonna Merritt has been part of this training track for the last couple of months.
“You can do a number of things. You can test the soil, go out and remove the lead and mold,” she said. “You can go out in the dirt and work in the trenches.”
Merritt has had a brush with the law, like most of the trainees who come through the center's doors. She doesn’t think her felony should prevent her from getting a job. She thinks being a felon actually makes her work harder.
“People tell you that you have to start from the bottom and work your way up. In my mind, I’m taught to believe what you are worth,” she said.
Trainees come to the center for several weeks or months to work toward certificates in five training tracks including solar energy and storm water management.
“They can go to these companies and say, ‘I have these certificates, I’m qualified to do this work.’ And they get the work and they get paid well to do it,” said Wellington Bruce Ashe, the Associate Director for training at the Center for Sustainable Careers.
Ashe says they also work on job skills, such as communication and promptness. They offer case management to help trainees with things like transportation, legal aid, etc.
He says he believes they attract so many people with a criminal background because they don’t hold that against the applicants. All they have to want, he says, is to work and be successful.
“The vigor and vitality with which they go after the new opportunity and the opportunity we avail is heartening,” he said. “It is something that brings tears to my eyes almost every day.”
Ashe says their graduation rate is at 85% and their placement rate is over 90%.
Kenneth DeGross knows how life changing the center can be. He came to Civic Works after spending six years in prison and struggled to find a job. He graduated from the Brownfields training track.
“Civic Works is one of the best things that actually happened to me,” he said. “It really gave me a new lease on life.”
Even with his certificates in Brownfields, DeGross just couldn’t stay away from the place that helped turn his life around. He now works at the center as a retention specialist.
“It makes me happy to see guys go out there and become successful. I’ve been through it myself so to see somebody else go through the same struggles I went through and overcome them, it makes me proud,” DeGross said.
Graduation for the next group of trainees is in a couple of weeks. Merritt said she’s excited to graduate and tells everyone she knows about the training program and how it can make a positive impact on a person’s life.
“The atmosphere is so loving and no matter what you’re going through, they have so much help and so many resources that actually do help,” she said.
Civic Works holds an information session about the training tracks offered at the Center for Sustainable Careers every Tuesday at 1 p.m. at the center’s facility at 3501 Brehms Lane in Baltimore. They also hold weekly sessions at the Mondawmin MOED One Stop.