Furnishing a Future is now up and running – our first cohort is deep into the program!! A program that has finally come to fruition through the support it has received from people at NextFab (the communal shop where this program is housed), the generosity of friends who have contributed financial support, the willingness of area employers to help shape our curriculum and strongly consider employing our ‘graduates,’ and the local agencies who are embracing our skills-based training as a gateway to a living wage.
FAF’s students have already been learning the mathematical skills necessary for carpentry and furniture crafting, developing the hand and power tool techniques that will serve them well in many professions, and honing the assembly methodology required of IKEA’s most complex furniture. They report being extremely pleased at what they are learning and are genuinely proud of their accomplishments to date.
Now….to share what I have learned from them…
1. DESIRE TO SUCCEED. Our students are extremely willing to do whatever it takes to make this work. Their case managers sent me an email the morning of the SEPTA strike - advising me not to expect them that day because they would have to walk over 5 miles each way to the shop. Everyone was there before the shop opened – and everyone has continued to walk everyday throughout the strike - rain or shine!
A 23-year-old young man contacted me to interview for the next class. The interview was at 3:30pm. He was in the lobby at 3:10pm rubbing his ankles. He had walked over 7½ miles to get here on time (SEPTA strike), met with me for 1½ hours, and turned around to walk over 7½ miles back home! Even though his math skills are weak…I will take him because he has more heart and desire than I can stand to disappoint! He has ‘math homework’ from me already – I am sure it will be done!
2. UNFAMILIAR HARDSHIPS. Just a few of daily hardships of life in a shelter that I learned:
· Sleeping 10 to a room. 20 people share 3 toilets and 2 showers – no toilet paper! As one put it, “it’s just not humane to not have toilet paper…”
· Breakfast served at 8, lunch at 12, dinner at 4! If you’re not there (because you may have a job) – you don’t get food! We had to push their staff to set aside a dinner for them because our program runs later than dinner.
· Total financial assistance - $194/month Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the new name for Food Stamps. Cannot be used for household items – like toilet paper. But these items are bartered for food stamps; at exorbitant rates.
The original vision of Furnishing a Future finally comes to fruition: furniture made by homeless returning citizens is delivered to a furniture bank set up to provide furniture to people transitioning from homelessness to their own homes. One student made sure to inform the Philadelphia Furniture Bank driver, "y'know...this didn't just come from a store...we made it!!"
Furnishing a Future gets some terrific news coverage early on:
October, 2016 article.
November, 2016 article.
November, 2016 Fox 29 TV news segment.
December, 2016 article. "Philly Gives Back" (p. 4)
Our first graduate finishes the program on a Friday afternoon....and begins a full-time job as a skilled craftsman the following Monday...at a local Philadelphia company - building custom doors and windows. A full-time position with a salary, overtime pay, benefits, medical insurance and days off.
The second cohort begins their shop orientation class on the same day he starts his new career. Hopefully, the cycle will just keep repeating itself!!
Students are continuing to graduate from the program and secure full-time jobs! However, we decided that too many candidates come to our shop, are motivated to begin a career in this field, and are ready and able to work...but are not meeting the minimum math skill level needed to begin.
Instead of turning these good candidates away, FAF decided to expand our five-week training program to include a new Carpentry Math Boot Camp. This one-week program will focus exclusively on the math concepts and applications that are required of fine carpentry and assembly/installation. We will work both in the classroom and the shop - directly applying the math concepts learned to practical applications!
Furnishing A Future is becoming more involved in the Philadelphia returning citizen community. Now a member of the Philadelphia Reentry Coalition.
Furnishing a Future's collaboration with the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Philadelphia School District produces their first student-craftsman graduate (and enjoys watching him graduate high school the following week!) He is now focused on a career in this field, and enrolled in a two year associates degree program at the Commonwealth Technical Institute.