Project Homeless Connect’s Day Center in Hillsboro desperately needed a wheelchair ramp, as their disabled patrons had to be carried up the stair to receive services. Rick’s Custom Fencing and Decking generously agreed to provide labor and materials to help with busy center serving people experiencing homelessness. HBF’s Project Manager, Chris McDowell suggested that building the ramp could provide a teaching opportunity for Constructing Hope. Rick’s Custom Fencing supervisor James Heidlebaugh is accustomed to supervising as many as 20 experienced staff each day. He proved to be a natural teacher to the aspiring construction workers, and made sure they were safe, telling them “No one gets hurt on my job site.
HBF and members of the residential building community have been working for more than a year to shore up the aging houses that Project Homeless Connect uses to provide services. More than 70 people a day come each day to receive a variety of services ranging for meals, laundry, showers, as well as job and housing placement. There have been hundreds of volunteers involved so far. National Women in Roofing provided a new roof, Mountainwood Homes and Lennar Portland has provided countless hours of their time with a broad range of projects, from rebuilding stairs, to painting, to yard work. Glencoe High students built a shed, and the gap-year program Tivnu helped build fencing. With this new cedar-clad ramp at Project Homeless Connect, Rick’s is donating all the lumber and fasteners as well as providing free labor and supervision.
McDowell and Rick’s Crew Production Manager Steve Rutledge mapped out plans and permitting for the ramp. The trainees helped HBF and Rick’s frame the ramp, poured concrete for bike stands, leveled an area for a path, spread gravel, built a gate from a kit, hammered in fence panels, read plans, and repaired windows. No matter what HBF’s Chris McDowell threw at them, the crew kept up. Constructing Hope instructor Alex Hughes says he appreciates the trainees getting out of the classroom. “That’s what is going to happen on the job site, it changes each day”.
In spite of long days and changing weather McDowell tells us each trainee gave the experience their all. While some of the trainees had already decided what career path or apprenticeship they would like to pursue, some were still evaluating their ultimate goals. Trainee Jose Lopez tells us “Actually, the first day on the site I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go into construction. But, after these two days, it was super exciting. This is what I want to do”.
Constructing Hope History
The trainees came to the job site with a variety of skill sets. Some were experienced carpenters, others were fresh out of high school and had limited training. At least half of them were formerly incarcerated. All are low income, and many are people of color. HBF has been assisting the NE Portland Pre-apprenticeship training program for more than four years now. HBF has provided financial support for the trainees such as bus passes, or WIFI hot spots during the pandemic. The Foundation has organized and staffed career and hiring fairs for the trainees. In the past two years, HBF has now sponsored three on the job experiences for the trainees. They have previously built picnic tables and benches that were donated to shelters, built platforms for tents at a Safe Rest Village.
An inspection held up the completion of the ramp but Rick’s Project Manager Heidlebaugh told the trainees to keep things in perspective. “If it was perfect, it wouldn’t be any fun”. The cohort is about to graduate their 10-week Pre-Apprenticeship training, so they were not going to see all the projects through. They tell us they really enjoyed the experience all the same. Rick’s also provided each trainee some company swag, so these new construction workers can begin their careers in style.
The Constructing Hope crew members who helped us are Naiheem Barrett, Roy Brown, Antonio Carter, Samir Hasan, Richard Henderson, Maya Hernandez, Westlee Houser, Jose Lopez, Angelo Luster, Jaumell Marshall, Adrian Miller, Clinton Morrison, Matthew Moultrie-Elayer, Kaden Nicholas, Skyler Scott, Joe Smoot, Joevantae Thompson, Nahshon Tirado, Aubrey Quinn Ward and Nikyle Williams. We appreciate your hard work and dedication, and wish you luck with your careers in construction.