The months of December and January have seen an increase in gang violence in the Pasadena community, and in light of these events Flintridge Center hopes to highlight thier work toward developing a safer, healthier community. The graduation marks participants’ commitment to themselves, family and their community.
On Thursday, 23 formerly incarcerated and gang-impacted community members graduated from Flintridge Center’s Apprenticeship Preparation Program (APP), a career readiness program based in Northwest Pasadena. The APP prepares community members returning to the San Gabriel Valley region for careers in union construction trades. Formerly incarcerated individuals face overwhelming barriers to successfully reintegrating into their communities, particularly in finding sustainable employment. Unemployment is the biggest factor impacting recidivism, and 65% of those released from California’s prison system return within three years. The APP is Flintridge Center’s answer to these challenges. The program includes a nationally-recognized union training course, case management, employment development, and life skills development. Graduates receive a union-issued pre-apprenticeship certificate that gives them a leg up when applying to join unions.
The main speaker, Daniel Torres, graduated from the Apprenticeship Preparation Program about five years ago and joined the Local 18 Union, which completely turned his life around and gave him the ability to provide for his wife and two daughters. After working for the union Daniel joined the Flintridge team and is now a leader, providing job development services, case management, and instruction to APP participants. Hear Daniel tell his story in his own words in this award-winning presentation he gave last year at the Social Venture Partners Fast Pitch competition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95N8aJwK9T8
Two graduates shared their story prior to Thursday’s graduation ceremony:
Louis Ortiz is 57 years old, and has spent 27 of those years in federal prison. He says, “Even when I wasn’t in the pen I was still incarcerated and imprisoned in my mind, my soul was held captive by my belief system and my behavior was very destructive. I was a very destructive individual in my community.” Louis says that the last time he got out, he had no idea what to do, but he decided he had to do something different with his life. He and his halfway house roommate, Tom, enrolled in the Apprenticeship Preparation Program together, and as Louis puts it, “the rest is history.” He recently landed an interview for a job as a union carpenter on the new soccer stadium in Los Angeles and hopes to be working with his classmate Mike Brown soon.
Michael (Mike) Brown had been in institutions for almost his entire life, starting in foster care at 4 years old. He was in and out of jail and prison since age 14, going to county jail a total of 23 times and prison twice. He got out of jail for the last time in September of 2016. He says, “it was so hard for me to even think about getting any kind of career or job,” but his only goal was to get into a union. In November of 2016, he enrolled in the Apprenticeship Preparation Program, and says “it was pretty much the best thing I could have done for myself.” Mike explains, “Where I’m from, we’re taught that you’re the oddball if you’re trying to do something right. This taught me that I’m doing the right thing because I’m doing it for myself.” He learned all aspects of how to get into union construction trades, strengthened his math skills, learned how to nail a job interview, and built up his self-esteem. Because of his hard work and dedication, Mike was accepted into the Carpenters’ Union a week before he graduated and is now working full time building the new soccer stadium in Los Angeles. To Mike, having a lasting union career means: “I know that in the future I can take care of my daughter and my family.”
The graduates included: Jason Alvarado, Michael C. Burnes, John Derwishian, Kwamé Gammon, David Mellinger, Samuel Soto, Salvador Alvarado, Michael Burnes Jr., MärQ Edwards, Edgar Holguin, Louis Ortiz, Saul Valdez, Brian Blevins, Domingo Cabral, Kenyon Donester Jermaine Huston, Carlos Posada, Jackie Vasquez, Michael Brown, Naomy Cueva, Brian Duque, Thomas Jerecki, and Andrew Revada.
Speakers at the event included past graduates, current students and local leaders.