Eleven Black males, most dressed in hoodies and T-shirts, watched intently as instructor George Palmer demonstrated how to use an electric saw to cut a wooden plank.
“Always let it drop on something,” he said as the board fell to the floor.
Welcome to Unity in the Community’s new Carpentry Academy, which teaches youngsters such skills as how to install drywall and flooring.
“Talking to parents, they say they want people to put the guns down but you don’t have anything for them to do,” said Anton Moore, founder of Unity in the Community and the academy’s creator. “And I noticed that kids, they love carpentry. Kids are interested in doing this stuff. Look at these kids.”
Glancing around the room, I could see that they were indeed engrossed in learning about woodworking — a field that not enough youngsters consider these days. By the time the 20-week academy ends, participants will know how to put up drywall, install flooring, paint walls, and complete other construction-related tasks. On Thursday, they built wooden stands for their shoes.
“If you look at all of this home building, it’s exploding,” said Ryan Boyer, president of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council. “If you know carpentry, you can become a millionaire in seven to 10 years, easily.”
The Carpentry Academy pays participants $150 a week, takes them on monthly field trips, and pairs them with male mentors. Each teen is required to volunteer at a funeral parlor for a few hours each month to remind them of the dangers that lurk out in the streets.
The hope is that upon completion of the program, the teenagers will use their newfound skills to start their own businesses and do home repairs. But even more than teaching youngsters carpentry basics, the program is about keeping at-risk youngsters occupied and safe.
“They could be out on the street corners right now getting murdered or arrested, but they are here,” Moore pointed out.
I’m for anything that teaches high school students marketable skills while also keeping them out of trouble. Nearly 1,500 people have been shot this year, including 140 kids, aged 17 and younger. Among them are 15-year-old Simone-Monea Rogers, who was fatally wounded by stray gunfire Tuesday while playing basketball at the Jerome Brown Playground in Tioga.
For safety reasons, Moore asked that The Inquirer not photograph the faces of the participants or reveal the days the group meets. I wouldn’t have written about the academy at all but efforts like these require funding. The more resources, the more youngsters can be reached. Once this program ends, Moore intends to begin another session.
“With the skills that these kids are going to learn and the tools that they are going to have, they could very well end up working on one of our job sites or with one of our subcontractors,” said Dean F. Tye, a senior associate with the STAMM Development Group, which donated $10,000 to the academy.
There’s money to be made. That’s why on Saturday, Aug. 28, local plumber Keith Scott is offering youngsters a free one-day introduction to plumbing and carpentry from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 2 to 5 p.m. at 925 N. Broad St.
“Real estate is on fire in Philadelphia, but it don’t move without the plumber. It don’t move without the carpenter. It don’t move without the electrician. It don’t move without the roofer,” Scott told me. “You need the trades. Without the trades, you’ve just got a pile of bricks laying there.”
“People are making thousands and thousands of dollars off of this stuff,” he pointed out.
Programs like what Scott and Unity in the Community’s Carpentry Academy provide are valuable because, as one participant pointed out, “It’s good for kids to have something to do instead of being outside.”
It’s a whole lot safer, too.