Community Carpentry aims to build career opportunity

Robert De Jesus (on ladder) helps David Van Williams work on a tiny house.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine
David Van Williams explains details about the Community Carpentry program.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

David Van Williams is an advocate for getting a college education, but he knows that route to a career path isn’t for everyone.

Take at-risk teenagers, for example. A vocation could be the answer. Carpentry in particular, is what Van Williams believes.

“If a person learns carpentry at a young age they might want to become an engineer because they’d have a better understanding of how the house is built,” he said. “They may want to become an architect.”

For almost two years, Van Williams has been working in Tallahassee to get Community Carpentry USA off the ground. He is director of the program that currently has four participants, but he would like to have at least 20 more. 

The program has a physical location at 2025 South Monroe Street. It’s open to at-risk young people ages 18-25. Van Williams hopes to grow the program to include after-school training for students ages 12 to 16.

Currently Van Williams’ group is putting the finishing touches on a 12 feet by 16 feet tiny house. When completed, it will have everything except electrical outlets. They are building it on property owned by Providence Baptist Church on the corner of Hillsboro and Lake streets.

As much as Van Williams has accomplished, the program is far from being fully established. Its survival depends on support from financial grants, donations and in-kind service, he said. When it attains sufficient funding, participants will be paid a stipend, he said.

Right now the carpentry students are essentially working as volunteers, showing up once weekly to work on the tiny house.  Home Depot and Lowes have donated lumber and other material to complete the project.

The first wall of the building was completed with a donation from an associate pastor at Bethel AME Church, Van Williams said. 

Acknowledging that participants could learn the same skills by attending a trade school, Van Williams said the community approach is more beneficial. For one, he believes, it helps deter young people from a life of crime.

Building in a community also allows teenagers to see career possibilities, he said.

“If they don’t see anyone in their community building houses or putting roofs on what would make them think they could see themselves doing it,” he said. “They are not going to do it.”

Part of the initiation included learning to read a measuring tape. They also spend time learning from a book titled “Creative house framing” with illustrations and explanation of  tools. Safety on the job site is also practiced.

“Our goal is to teach the fundamentals and the basics so that a young person, after they graduate from this, if they decide to go to Lively (Technical College) or an apprenticeship program their chances of success is greater,” he said, “because they would have learned the fundamentals in advance.”

At the end of the six-month program each participant receives a certificate that makes them eligible to work as a carpenter’s assistant. Robert De Jesus is working to become one of the first beneficiaries.

He was attracted to the program by the community engagement concept, said De Jesus, 27.

“This is proof of trust,” he said. “This has been progress so the proof is that we all trust each other out here in the community. The pastor of this land came out and communicated with us and we’ve had the community come out. 

“That’s building an image of trust because now they are seeing the faces that are actually doing the work.”