A Co-Op High music student discovered a loose connection in his Fender Stratocaster acoustic guitar. He went online and taught himself how to solder the wires and firm up the connections to the amplifier.
Beautiful music was born. So was an interest in electricity.
Jordan Burgess got a chance to explore that more practical electrician’s career firsthand the other day when he installed upgraded switches and smoke alarms at a vacant unit at the Housing Authority of New Haven’s (HANH) Farnam Courts complex on Hamilton Street.
Jordan is one of ten young people 16 to 21 years old selected from the HANH’s far flung communities across the city to participate in the second year of its Summer Training & Employment Program (STEP).
Jordan changed out the ground, the neutral, and the hot wire in an upgraded outlet at 104 Hamilton St. under the watchful eye of Weaverton (Van) Whittley (pictured), an HANH mechanical systems supervisor. He was in the fourth week of an intense program, modeled on the citywide Youth at Work initiative.
After orientation and workshops on balancing personal budgets and job etiquette and social development, Jordan has spent from 9 a.m. to 1p.m. daily at various operations at HANH developments trying on or “shadowing” a range of types of work and careers.
Wednesdays from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. are given over to hanging out with peers, sharing experiences, and mentorship.
Of the ten kids in the program, Jordan is only one of two who expressed a preference for learning and shadowing the building trades. In previous weeks he’s spent time learning how to inventory the maintenance department’s tools at the new Brookside development at the base of West Rock.
Jordan also learned to lay tile and install floor molding at units in the Waverly Townhouses on George Street.
Of all the experience so far, Jordan pronounced Friday’s electrical installation the best because he got a chance to do the kind of work he sees himself entering as an adult.
“Electrician is my ultimate goal, ” he said to Whittley as he showed Jordan how when you cut the tab of the new outlet, that turns it into a “switched outlet.” That is, one of whose wires will now be connected to the wall switch while the other receives current form the power source at the circuit.
Then Whittley, who wanted the young man to call him Van, suggested that electricity was an open and potentially lucrative field. Why not an electrical engineer?
“That’s way up there,” replied Jordan.
“You can keep going up. That’s what we want,” Whittley replied.
That’s what the authority wants too.
HANH Executive Director Karen DuBois-Walton said STEP took its current form last year when the citywide Youth at Work program didn’t have enough paying vocational summer placements for all of the kids in the cohort of around 50 that it sends over—and provides the money for—every year.
The authority wanted placements for about 17 kids whom Youth at Work turned down. So it did so internally, sending the kids to experience the various departments at HANH from the trades to legal to human resources.
DuBois-Walton said she thinks STEP is slightly different from the city’s Youth at Work program in that there are more peer experiences—all that hanging out and sharing what they’re doing every Wednesday afternoon. STEP also features close mentorships, such as plumbing and HVAC tech Ken Barbour offered Eli Whitney Technical High School grad and Gateway Community College student Lonzo Reed (pictured) on Friday morning. Reed said his goal is to learn the business side of being a plumber at Gateway and then open up his shop in the future. With Barbour supervising he’d spent the morning installing a circulation pump and a circuit board for a boiler at the Waverly Townhouses.
Reed said he was familiar with boilers from his school work at Eli Whitney. Barbour said he let Reed do all the hands-on-work, that he had done very well, and the whole repair took about 45 minutes.
Reed called the experience terrific and, like Jordan, the best part of STEP thus far.
Not full of quite the same praise was Shannon Dickey (pictured). She’s one of only two young people returning to the program from the first year. (The ten slots were filled through a competitive application process.) A culinary arts student at Gateway Community College, and someone who likes to move around, Shannon said she was finding her stint of filing, scheduling, and other office work in HANH’s legal department, well, a little constricting.
She had liked, however, the day her boss, HANH Chief Legal Officer Sandra Bispham-Haywood brought her along to the weekly Compstat crime data-sharing meeting at police headquarters. She said she was not aware of coordination on that level among the police, HANH, and other groups in town.
“As valuable as finding the career you love is finding what doesn’t work for you,” said DuBois-Walton when told of Shannon’s remarks.
HANH is in the process of finding internal internships for the kids for the fall extending the STEP program through the academic year, DuBois-Walton added.
Meanwhile, back at Farnam Courts, Jordan was finishing up with electrical tape and using the orange tester lights to see if the new plugs worked, with the power put back on.
“Safety first,” said Whittley.
Later in the day Jordan would accompany him to an apartment where a bathroom light fixture needs to be replaced. This repair would offer experience not only in electricity but how to interact with the occupant of the apartment while the job is being done.
A “graduation” exercise for Jordan, Lonzo, Shannon and the other young people in the program is slated for Aug. 15.