Juveniles trade jail for promise of jobs

11 graduates look to work in construction

July 25, 2008|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,Sun Reporter

Silver Spring - When he arrived at Victor Cullen Academy in Western Maryland five months ago, Timothy Goode was a juvenile delinquent from Baltimore, an unemployed father who was headed deeper into trouble. Today, the 18-year-old will leave the facility with a job in construction "for as long as he wants it," his new employer said.

Goode and 10 other Victor Cullen detainees graduated yesterday from a pre-apprenticeship program that introduced them to the building trades and connected them with union leaders who have said they are eager to employ the young men in a graying field where the average age is 47.

The program, a partnership between the state Department of Juvenile Justice and the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, is the first of its kind in Maryland - possibly in the nation, its organizers say. Victor Cullen, a medium-security facility in rural Sabillasville, houses teenage boys who have been found responsible for a crime and sentenced in juvenile court.

The 10-week program included three classes each week at Victor Cullen and a handful of side trips to union halls and apprentice schools across the state. The young men learned about electrical work, plumbing, insulation and other building trades. They took a course on job safety and created resumes and practiced interviewing.

Donald Cooper, an 18-year-old from Washington, said "This changed my life, for real." He said he plans to pursue a masonry apprenticeship. Goode and Cooper were slated to be released from Victor Cullen weeks ago, having completed the sentences that had been handed down in juvenile court. But both chose to stay at the facility to complete the pre-apprenticeship program.

Baltimore and Washington building trade unions supplied teachers and gave tours. They were not paid for their work.

"You have opened doors for our kids, and you've also opened your hearts," said Juvenile Services Secretary Donald W. DeVore, addressing the unions at yesterday's ceremony at the National Labor College.

In an essay read aloud during the ceremony, a 16-year-old from Silver Spring wrote that a union is "where you are accepted and where people look after you." The Sun does not typically identify juveniles without their parent's consent.

Brian Cavey, an insulation union member, helped organize the program at Victor Cullen. He called it "the most rewarding thing I've ever done in my career" and said he had "grown to like each and every one of [the youths]."

As the boys retrieved their diplomas and shook the hands of seven smiling officials, many of them wrapped their arms around Cavey. Kelvin Walker, 18, from Washington thumped Cavey on the back. "Thank you for everything."

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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