Idle hands find work in The Brotherhood Mentor program offers on-the-job training

February 01, 1992|By Robert Hilson Jr.

The Rev. Clayton Bywaters sees two worlds when he stands outside his church in Northwest Baltimore.

In one world he sees unemployed young men and women idling on porches and street corners in pockets of the neighborhood around Liberty Heights Avenue and Garrison Boulevard, a neighborhood doused with crime, drugs and despair.

But in the other world, one that is slowly coming into focus in the same neighborhood, he sees scores of new workers, once unemployed and considered unemployable, rehabilitating area houses.

"That's what I like to see," said Mr. Bywaters, associate pastor at Adams Chapel A.M.E. Church. "There are a lot of people who want to be employed but aren't for one reason or another. I look at these people and see capable workers."

That's where The Brotherhood comes into play. Begun last summer, The Brotherhood functions as a clearinghouse for jobs ranging from unskilled cleaning work to skilled construction work.

The Brotherhood fields requests for workers from the public and assigns workers with appropriate skills to handle the jobs. The program uses skilled workers to train those who want to learn a trade.

The fees, which are negotiable, are usually less than the going rates, Mr. Bywaters said, and the skilled workers are certified and have many years experience at their crafts. "It's empowering to work and then keep the money in the community to work again," he said.

Stephen Johnson, 36, who has been doing home improvement throughout the city for several years, serves as a mentor for the Brotherhood. He said that unskilled workers get instruction before they go on jobs with him.

"My father trained me as a kid and I'd like to pass it on. There's a lot of people out here who need it," Mr. Johnson said. "They have to learn a certain trade, not necessarily thoroughly at first but well enough."

Mr. Johnson became involved "to help our people be more self-sufficient." A happy result has been that Johnson has "gotten more [jobs] through this. Hopefully, it will keep business coming and keep it in the community for people who many not have job opportunities."

One of those who got training is William "Chip" Lane, 29, of Northeast Baltimore, who had done odd jobs but had limited skills. He said he joined The Brotherhood, learned home improvement skills and has added income and job opportunities.

"I painted some, but that slowed down so I wanted to learn more trades, more skills," Mr. Lane said. "I was doing all right before this, but I want to see myself expand. I can never learn enough."

So far about 50 men are involved in The Brotherhood, including 10 who serve as mentors, Mr. Bywaters said.

Mr. Bywaters said that his recruitment technique was straightforward.

"When I see a group of young, black men I walk right into the middle and try to get them involved with us. You can't help a drowning person until someone swims out there and helps him."

One of the first areas Mr. Bywaters went in search of workers for The Brotherhood was a large house that was known as a source of drug activity.

"The guys would be hanging out there all of the time, and some of them still are,. It was a dope den," Mr. Bywaters said. "It's not going to be 100 percent, but it's a lot better than it was. You can't save them all, but you can't lose them all either."

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