The students in a small construction class have one thing in common. Their lives have been pounded by Hurricane Katrina.
"I lost 80 percent of my house," said Monica Conley of Gulfport.
Conley also lost her job when the agency she worked for moved north. So when the mother of three heard about Operation Reconstruct Mississippi, she signed-up.
"I think it's real good, because it gives people some sense of a career opportunity," Conley said. "I was like, 'Oh man, this was not as hard as I thought it was.' Yeah, this is great."
Conley is among a dozen students who are getting hands-on training in electrical wiring, plumbing, and carpentry.
"They taught me a lot about reading a tape measure," said Don Williams, Jr., of Moss Point. "They pound it on you, and pound it on you, and let you know when you get out, this is what you need. This is what you need to know to make it out here in building a house and stuff. So it's really good."
The best part is the training and tools are free. The students even get a $150 weekly stipend. Freddie Mac and The National Association of Home Builders donated $325,000 to the program. It's part of the NAHB's Home Building Industry Disaster Relief Fund.
"This program targets people from 18 years and up, and they have been affected by Hurricanes Rita or Katrina," said Project Coordinator Eddie Collins. "We're giving these students a second chance in life. They're proud of what they're doing. They've accomplished something. It makes them feel good and it makes us feel good also."
The students are currently renovating a vacant building on 12th Street in Gulfport. The structure is being used as their school. The next step is to go out into the community. The students plan to get on-the-job experience by working on homes for Gulfport families in need.
They hope to eventually land a job in the post-Katrina building boom. Monica Conley wants to be a project manager someday. But her first priority is using her skills to rebuild her home.
"Oh yeah, I can't wait. That's my key project," Conley said. "Yeah, it's a blessing. It's a blessing."
Each training session lasts ten weeks. Students who graduate will receive a pre-Apprenticeship certificate and job placement assistance. Applications are being accepted for the next class. If you would like to apply, call (228) 323-1052.