Building Dreams, Plying Trades

May 16, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

Carl Owens has worked as a painter and general laborer for the Annapolis Housing Authority for four years, but he has other dreams.

"I want to better my skills," he said. "I'd like to learn more in carpentry."

His employer is making those dreams come true.

Mr. Owens, 30, of Annapolis is one of 11 Housing Authority employees enrolled in a pilot program to teach them carpentry.

The program eventually will be opened to residents of Annapolis public housing as well, said Harold Greene, director of the Housing Authority. Courses are being planned to teach employees and residents plumbing, electrical and landscaping skills.

The carpentry course is accredited by the building trades organization, Associated Builders and Contractors, and is a first step toward a journeyman's license, said Philip Hundley, the instructor who travels each Thursday from Hagerstown to teach the workers.

After 18 weeks, the students will have learned how to work safely, calculate dimensions, operate basic hand and power tools, and build walls and floors.

Mr. Greene said the program, which is funded by a federal grant, allows the Housing Authority to upgrade its maintenance staff and teach skills to workers who can go on to qualify for better jobs.

"Very often our personnel are low-income people with very little training," Mr. Greene said. "The Housing Authority is their first step up."

Thirty men and women work for the Housing Authority's maintenance staff.

Although only about one-third volunteered for the carpentry course, others are waiting to take other courses, said David Olds, the director of the maintenance staff.

The workers get time off to attend class at the Housing Authority's office in Eastport.

Mr. Hundley, a licensed contractor and member of the Associated Builders and Contractors, teaches carpentry classes around the state. He said the Housing Authority workers are among the best students he has had.

"They have a high motivation," he said.

Despite the sluggishness in the construction market in Maryland in the past few years, Mr. Hundley said that new carpenters will be needed. "The average journeyman is 50 years old," he said. "If we don't train people now, we won't have people in 10 to 15 years."

In a recent class, Mr. Hundley supervised the students as they cut boards to create a simulated wood floor.

"This has been wonderful," said Mr. Owens, dressed in the blue uniform of a Housing Authority maintenance worker, a hard hat and support belt. "I've learned a lot about measurements."

Another student, David Butler, 32, who has worked for the Housing Authority for seven years, said he hopes the class will help him get a better job.

Mike Diacou, 61, who has worked four years with the Housing Authority, said he was always interested in carpentry. He said the skills he has learned will help him in his job as a laborer, but he hopes for even more.

"I'd like to be a carpenter."

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