‘This Old House’ gives two YouthBuild Boston apprentices a spot in the limelight and a path forward
'You can drive past a lot filled with nothing, but it can potentially become something, and I relate that to myself ... coming from nothing to something.’
A little more than six months ago, Bobbi Jones, 26, was sitting at a desk working as a security guard and grappling with her future. “Is this something you really want to do for the rest of your life?’’ she asked herself.
Around the same time, 19-year-old high school student Yeren Rivera Cruz, who moved to the area from Puerto Rico at 10, also found himself struggling to find his passion.
Fortunately for them, there was a strong support system there to lend a guiding hand. For Jones, it was a cousin in the carpentry union. For Cruz, a teacher with a heart and desire to help.
Within a matter of months, both would sign up with the Boston affiliate of YouthBuild USA, a global nonprofit aiding underprivileged youth in 46 states and 18 countries. Students in the program learn job skills in the construction industry or for careers in health care, retail, and information technology.
Jones and Cruz both showed an interest in carpentry, and through the leadership of Brian McPherson at YouthBuild Boston, quickly excelled in their craft and built a strong foundation of skills and work ethic.
“When I arrived at the office at seven o’clock in the morning, Bobbi was almost always there before [me],’’ said McPherson, who is the executive director at YouthBuild Boston. McPherson said what stood out the most about them was how they showed up ready to work every day with the right attitude and the right equipment. It also didn’t hurt that they “were just so personable,’’ McPherson said.
This only made the choice easier when PBS’s “This Old House,’’ now in its 42d season, came to YouthBuild USA seeking apprentices for a Dorchester restoration project. On July 4, 2019, a fire tore through the rear of the three-decker Carol Wideman had owned for 40 years, forcing her family out of the house.
Jones and Cruz underwent a rigorous interview process before they were selected for the six-week undertaking.
For Jones, it was the greatest opportunity she’s ever had. “There were times at the job site where I would just say, ‘Thank God it’s me who got chosen’.’’ Jones, who grew up in Roxbury with a single mother and three siblings, sees construction and carpentry as a way to build her own life. “You can drive past a lot filled with nothing, but it can potentially become something, and I relate that to myself … coming from nothing to something.’’
While on site for “This Old House,’’ the pair learned from industry expert Charlie Silva, who showed them every aspect of the trade, from roofing to carpentry.
The familial environment on the job site was one of the big takeaways from their experience, they said. “They definitely made it feel like a home … it was like being around aunts and uncles, so that was great to have that welcoming feeling,’’ Jones said.
For Silva, one of the best parts of being on the job is sharing his decades of experience with the apprentices. “I love talking to the younger generation about the trades and getting into the trades and all the little life lessons that go along with it. We talked about everything on the truck rides and different job sites we would go to,’’ Silva said.
The advice went far beyond trade skills. Cruz and Jones recounted the various life lessons they learned. Cruz said Silva’s teachings on work ethic have affected how he goes about his day-to-day life. Cruz hopes to start his own company and invent products that make carpentry work easier. None of that would have been possible without the opportunities he was given through YouthBuild and “This Old House,’’ he said.
“That program got me to where I am today, so for me that program was really everything. That program was really the stepping stone for me and my life,’’ Cruz said.
The first episode of “This Old House’’ featuring Cruz and Jones will air on Thursday, April 29, at 8 p.m. on GBH 2.
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