Chicago’s South Side is often the source of negative headlines about crime, violence and poverty − problems that tear down a community. But at the Paul Simon Job Corps Center
, students are learning skills to build better lives and rebuild their neighborhoods.
For Bianca Ruvalcaba, 24, the Job Corps carpentry career training program was a natural fit.
“My grandfather and my uncles are carpenters. I loved helping them when I was kid and learning from them,” she said. “I was working a dead-end job and trying to move forward with my life when I learned about the trades programs at Job Corps, which is just down the street from where I grew up.”
One of first experiences Bianca had on a real construction site was by volunteering with other students from the Job Corps program as part of the Misericordia Heart of Mercy’s
Annual Family Fest. The event supports more than 600 children and adults with developmental disabilities, and the Job Corps students helped to erect structures and shelving for it.
“I was so happy to volunteer on the project because I have a cousin with Down Syndrome so I know how important programs like Misericordia are for families,” Bianca said.
Carpenter instructors Bill Close and Randy Wuestenberg began having students volunteer at the festival more than a decade ago because they felt it was a great opportunity to hone skills and interact with other professionals on the job site.
“Volunteering puts the students on a job site where they are meeting mentors and prospective local employers,” Close said. “It is an experience that helps prepare them for employment in the carpentry field.”
After completing the Job Corps program in October 2015, Bianca now proudly wears her United Brotherhood of Carpenters polo shirt while working as a first-year apprentice carpenter. Being an apprentice
lets her continue on-the-job training while providing opportunities to interview for positions on construction crews.
“I really love working in this field, carpentry keeps my attention. Sitting behind a computer screen isn’t for me,” she said. “Job Corps helped me change my life and learn skills for a career. This is exactly what I want to do.”
Editor’s note: Job Corps trains more than 60,000 students at 126 centers in all 50 states. Interested in more information? Visit jobcorps.gov or call 800-733-5627.
Rhonda Burke is a public affairs specialist for the department in Chicago.