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This nonprofit is training returning citizens for construction jobs

Lumber. November 9, 2016 Category: FeatureFeaturedFundingShort
Citizens returning from prison sentences need jobs, and blighted communities need revitalization. Enter Philadelphia Community Corps.

The nonprofit, founded by Greg Trainor two years ago, gives returning citizens and at-risk youth entry-level job training in construction by having participants deconstruct blighted buildings. The organization funds itself by selling the salvaged materials.

But it’s not enough. Between buying tools, overhead expenses at their new workshop on Front and Erie streets and paying staff, the whole process ain’t exactly cheap.

So, they’re launching an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign on #GivingTuesday in hopes of raising $25,000 to sustain the program.

“We’ve had a pretty high success rate given the means we’ve had,” said Managing Director Alex McNeil. “We’re at a point we need to hire some people to take things to the next level and keep it rolling.”

The program has had a rocky start — Trainor tried to launch Philadelphia Community Corps two times as an anti-blight program before finally getting it off the ground in the fall of 2014 — but they’re positive their reworked business model can be successful, with the proper funds.

It's too early yet to tell what impact the program is having on recidivism rates.

“It’s great for entry-level job training. It’s not skilled carpentry or anything, but you’re using the same tools,” said McNeil, adding that the tools contribute heavily to overall expenses. “You get worksite professionalism and communication, you understand how buildings go together … in addition to saving architectural history and these [material] gems they don’t make any more.”

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It’s too early yet to tell what impact the program is having on recidivism rates, said McNeil. The sample sizes have simply been too small.

However, 18 trainees have gone through the program in the past year, half of whom have been connected to employment opportunities in the construction industry. In the process, Philadelphia Community Corps has diverted over 100,000 pounds of material from landfills, according to McNeil.

McNeil said the nonprofit has partnered with YouthBuild Charter School and PowerCorps PHL through Mural Arts Program’s Restorative Justice Guild to get participants, but they’ll be looking for more partners in the near future.

“Moving forward, we want to model [the program] to have case workers and try to follow up with people,” he said. “Job placement is our number one goal — full-time employment in meaningful careers.”

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