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PUBLIC HOUSING RESIDENTS GET APPRENTICESHIP BOOST

Public housing has provided Aaron Marchione with shelter for nine years.

Now, it's helping him start a career.

Marchione is one of 17 public housing residents who completed a six-month pre-apprenticeship program that they hope will lead to high-paying, skilled union jobs in the building and construction trades.

The LaSalle Courts resident, 21, is on his way. He's making $13 an hour in his first year of apprenticeship as a union painter and could be making as much as $29 an hour in wages and benefits at the end of four years, when he reaches journeyman status.

"This program has been an opportunity for me to get out of the rut I was in," Marchione said recently as he carefully applied a coat of paint to new drywall in a burned-out apartment at Langfield Homes.

"I was in a stage where I might go from one job to the next, never really having a steady job that I could build my life upon," Marchione said.

The pre-apprenticeship program is a joint effort of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority and two local trades unions. Carpenters Local 9 and Painters District Council 4 were awarded a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to run the program. Robert Porto, an apprenticeship counselor with the painters union, said enthusiasm was slow to build with public housing residents at first.

"A lot of individuals had been through programs already and never received any jobs out of it and thought this was just another one of those bogus training programs," Porto said. "We tried to assure them that if things work out and they really liked this and were good at it, they could find employment through it."

Kendall Reid, a Jasper Parrish Homes resident, learned about the program through fliers distributed in public housing developments. Reid, who dropped out of school in the 10th grade, said he excelled at carpentry while attending McKinley Vocational High School. He hopes to join the carpenters union after his pre-apprenticeship training.

To qualify as participants, Reid and the others were required to earn a general education diploma, pass a drug-screening test and get a driver's license. The program is open to public housing residents 18 to 24 years old.

All participants receive a $500 monthly stipend while they stay in the program. As an added benefit, their rent -- which is based on income -- remains fixed during the course of the program.

However, the real payoff is at the end of the pre-apprenticeship, when many, like Marchione and Reid, go on to full-time work. As an incentive to the trades unions, the Housing Authority awarded them contracts to renovate several burned-out apartments in its developments. It is in these units that some of graduates of the pre-apprenticeship are honing their skills while earning a living wage.

"Actually, they're good, hard workers," Porto said. "We happen to have some nice compliments from the contractors.

"When we first had this program, I think a lot of people were excited because the individuals would show up on time and be there every day. But as time went on, their work ethics really began to come out.

"When you're doing a training program, you're teaching, and things are very slow. Now, when they go out to a work site, the pace really picks up 110 percent, and they were able to keep up."

Even those who may later decide not pursue careers in the building trades are still inspired to seek other goals, said Sharon West, Housing Authority director.

"It really helps establish the work ethic and move them into the world of work," Ms. West said.

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