|Citibank, N.A.||Taller San Jose||AHEAD Award: $25,000|
Santa Ana, California, ranked number one among 86 of the country’s largest cities for “urban hardship” in a 2004 study by the Rockefeller Institute of Government. In this environment, nonprofit Taller San Jose is offering young adults who may have taken a wrong turn in life a path to a living wage job and a brighter future.
Taller San Jose’s Taller Tech Construction Academy helps reconstruct troubled lives, taking young people with no marketable skills and, often, a criminal record, into a paid apprentice program that turns out graduates with certified skills and work-ready behaviors. Says Shawna Smith, Executive Director of Taller San Jose, “We are committed to a three-pronged approach—the construction skills training and theory our students need to be able to be smart on the build site and with their hands; life skills support—because you can learn to hammer a nail but if you can’t get to work on time every day you are not going to keep your job; and then resume writing and interviewing, those things that help you get the job.”
“Many of Taller San Jose’s students carry a lot of shame for the destructiveness of their past – for their own lives, their families, and their neighborhoods. To be part of rebuilding is empowering, and an important part of reintegrating into their community.”
Shawna Smith, Executive Director, Taller San Jose
Taller San Jose launched HopeBuilders, Inc., to put Taller Tech graduates to work in their community building affordable housing. A $25,000 AHEAD grant, secured through Bank member Citibank, N.A., helped fund start-up costs. In collaboration with the City of Santa Ana and Orange County Community Housing Corporation, HopeBuilders received its first contract to build three new homes in the Logan Barrio.
On the dusty building site, a diverse work crew transcends traditional rivalries and works together as a team. “They’ve been involved in some activities related to gangs and drugs and violence, but that’s not who they are,” says Shawna Smith. “The wonderful thing about this program is that it allows them to redefine themselves.”
HopeBuilders also gives participants a chance to revitalize their neighborhoods. “Many of Taller San Jose’s students carry a lot of shame for the destructiveness of their past – for their own lives, their families, and their neighborhoods. To be part of rebuilding is empowering, and an important part of reintegrating into their community,” adds Smith.
Gang member-turned construction worker Frank Banda IV was born and raised in the Logan Barrio neighborhood. “This is the first constructive thing I’ve ever done with my life,” Banda acknowledges, forehead beaded with sweat in the afternoon sun. Now he’s looking forward to a better future for himself and the neighborhood.
Fellow Taller Tech graduate, Tri Nguyen, sees the same connection. “This project is productive for the city and myself. My family, they’re proud of me. And I feel good making a new home for another family.” The three new houses were sold to local low-income families at below-market prices.
HopeBuilders, Inc., aims to become a self-sustaining source of funding for Taller Tech while putting alumni and current students to work building affordable homes for their low-income neighbors. Looking toward a green future, Taller San Jose and Citibank, N.A., teamed up again to add weatherization, solar panel installation, and green construction to Taller Tech’s training program. It’s another forward-thinking initiative designed to help to break the cycle of poverty in Santa Ana.