Program Helps At-Risk Teens Find a Future in Construction
An uncommon partnership between a Harford County nonprofit and an electrical contractor is helping at-risk teenagers become construction professionals.
“A few years ago, I had kids in my program that weren’t making it in the traditional school setting,” said Melynda Velez, Executive Director of Linking All So Others Succeed (LASOS), a nonprofit that helps non-English speakers with language training, workforce training, financial literacy and assistance with life challenges. “These kids were going to drop out. They had no plans. Their future was ending… Without mentorship, support or future goals, it’s easy for kids to spiral.”
Benfield Electric Co. President Greg Benfield had already become a generous supporter of LASOS, so Velez proposed a partnership. The conversation resulted in Benfield Electric becoming a sponsor of Aspire, a LASOS program designed to help at-risk youth complete alternative high school education and land an internship. Participants work during the day and attend classes at night to complete their high school diploma, GED or job training. In addition, mentors help participants address barriers to success.
So far, Benfield Electric has hired half a dozen people through LASOS, who are now working their way through the electrical apprenticeship program.
“LASOS has provided dedicated employees to our company, “Benfield said. “We are happy to sponsor Aspire and support LASOS. We are trying to help people out while also solving our workforce problems.”
Noting that the construction industry has a long tradition of employing immigrants, Benfield said he would like to see more opportunities for his company and other contractors to get involved with helping immigrants build successful careers in construction.
“There are a lot of people who would love to do this work and could do a great job. But sometimes they are exploited because they can’t work legally or they live in fear or they are stigmatized by the media and politics, “he said. “We end up competing with other companies over the few electricians out there… We could be more welcoming and build our workforce.”