East St. Louis group, unions give teens chance to succeed
EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. — Jordan Wade and Ja’Bryan Grissom are teenagers taking traditional classes before joining the workforce.
But Wade, a freshman at Southwestern Illinois College, and Grissom, a senior at East St. Louis High School, have also found another way to boost their preparations before stepping out as adults.
They are part of the East St. Louis-based R3 Development organization, which aims to empower youths with “job opportunities that equip them with the resources and skills necessary for success.”
Or in the words of Kevin Green, one of the R3 Development leaders, the group helps teens “live out the American dream.”
The nonprofit group has hired 17 teenagers, including Wade and Grissom, for an eight-week summer work academy. This summer program included construction shop class, construction projects in East St. Louis, field trips and tutoring in math and reading. The field trips included visits to the Melvin Price Locks and Dam in Alton and Scott Air Force Base.
The participants are treated as employees of R3 Development and were paid $12 an hour.
Wade is glad he joined R3 Development six months ago.
“It’s a great opportunity,” he said. “It’s a great training ground.”
Wade, 18, said R3 Development lets you “get your hands dirty” while learning new skills. And it “shows you what life is all about,” he said.
Wade is studying highway construction at SWIC, but he has an open mind about where to start his career.
Wade likes carpentry, plumbing, flooring, bricklaying and even the all-important job of cleaning up sites for safety.
“I want to be great at whatever I do,” he said.
He praised the R3 Development leaders for bringing a faith-based message to the students.
Wade said most of the teens in the R3 Development are from East St. Louis.
“We’re coming back to rebuild our community,” he said.
“It’s positivity in East St. Louis, and there’s a lot to be done but we can get it done but it starts with us,” he said. “We have to lead the way.”
Ja’Bryan echoed Wade’s comments: “I think it’s a really good program for people so that you can learn about God but also learn about the trades.”
Ja’Bryan, 17, is considering a career as an electrician, but he’s also open to other fields such as bricklaying. That’s the field Ja’Bryan, Wade and others on the R3 Development team learned about on Saturday.
Members of the Bricklayers Local 8 union volunteered to help make repairs to a duplex in East St. Louis and to give tips to the R3 Development participants.
Along with the bricklayers, a swarm of other volunteers from churches and businesses across the St. Louis area helped rehab the home on North 42nd Street and also a multifamily building a couple blocks away on North 40th Street off Caseyville Avenue as part of the Lansdowne Community Initiative.
Matt Braun, president of the Bricklayers Local 8 which has union members in 65 counties, said the volunteers were happy to share their tips and talents with the teens.
The duplex is about 100 years old, and the brickwork needed a lot of help.
The crew tore out one chimney that was in bad shape, and they tuckpointed another with assistance from Diecker-Terry Masonry Inc. from Marissa. The tuckpointing job required old mortar to be removed and then replaced with new mortar.
“As a union standpoint, it’s important that we do this because kids aren’t exposed to this in the schools,” Braun said.
Braun said there are openings in the union, which includes bricklayers, tile setters and finishers and tuckpointers. Entry wages start at $15 an hour and progress to $34 an hour.