Free Construction Class Generates Huge Interest

Twelve more students are ready to rebuild, after Katrina disrupted their lives.

"We had a lot of damage at the home and I also lost my mom that Wednesday before Katrina," said Roxanne Morris of Biloxi.

Morris also lost her job after the storm. Her classmates are all looking for work or a career change.

"I worked with a lot of contractors doing different jobs, but I never had formal schooling or graduate certificates in this field," said Chris Walker of Gulfport. "So, I'm hoping to get started in the right way and hopefully, find me a good job."

Through Operation Reconstruct Mississippi, the students learn basic construction skills, starting with math and safety lessons, then hands-on training. The program is open to people 18 years and older, who have been affected by Katrina.

When the program started back in April, there was no place to even have classes. The students themselves remodeled a donated building on 12th Street in Gulfport and they built their own training stations. Since then, the program has generated a lot of interest.

"We have approximately four to six people come by everyday, wanting to register to get in the class," said Project Coordinator Eddie Collins. "There's such a need. People are still living in FEMA trailers. We got multi-families, three to four families living in one household, and they're wanting to help themselves. Plus, there are job opportunities."

With 50 people on the waiting list, the students are thankful they got in the current class and are eager to get to work.

"I have a son who's 7-years-old, and he's telling everybody his mommy is a construction worker," Morris said. "I want to see about starting my own construction company in this area, so I'm very excited."

Besides the training, the students also get free tools, a $150 weekly stipend, and job placement assistance. Freddie Mac and The National Association of Home Builders donated $325,000 to fund the program for one year. Anyone interested in applying for the next class can call (228) 323-1052. Be prepared to be put on a waiting list.