Chris Head was looking for a job when the coronavirus outbreak hit.
With experience working on assembly lines, Head attempted to find work at local manufacturing facilities and has been pursuing other jobs. He has not heard anything back since the virus arrived in Middle Tennessee when he moved back home to Columbia after living in the Rutherford County community of Eagleville.
Then a friend who works in construction connected him with Build and Learn, a local nonprofit organization.
With nearly 50,000 southern Middle Tennesseans having filed employment claims since early March, the organization continues its mission of helping those in need of employment by providing home renovations at no cost to the homeowner.
“It is definitely a good trade to learn, but it ain’t easy,” Head said as he began to install strips of insulation inside the small bathroom.
Since 2008, Build and Learn, has offered training programs in home building and renovation for citizens struggling to find work and provides those students’ services to veterans and disadvantaged citizens in need.
Instructor and local contractor Bubba Moss is guiding Head with on the job training on a volunteer basis.
“I am lucky to have guys like Bubba who can offer training,” said Quinton Jones, the founder of the program that started in Nashville but has since found a home in Columbia.
Now, the nonprofit continues amid the unprecedented circumstances caused by the coronavirus, offering a path for those who can’t find work in other fields.
Students who have struggled to find work are learning the basic skills of construction and home renovation through the Build and Learn program.
“We are recruiting people who didn’t finish high school that can’t get into community college or trade school,” said Jones. “We are trying to fill that void and offer a path to a trade that they normally would not have. We try to provide a path that does not otherwise exist.”
Jones, a former school librarian and school teacher, said the program also works to implement the same lessons taught in high school including mathematics and reading comprehension.
“We try to offer a different way to teach,” Jones said. “A lot of guys seem to learn better when it is presented to them in a practical sense.
He said the program, which feeds a steady flow of workers to local contractors, offers a career path for those who may not fit the traditional mold.
“We try to modify learning to meet their learning style,” Jones said. “We offer an avenue for employment for those who can’t get into a trade school.”
Jones previously worked as project developer for general contractor Hood Company, LLC where he spent much of his time building low income housing in Nashville.
He is also a former director of the Middle Tennessee Diversity Contractors Association. The Nashville-based organization consists of 150 members.
This week, students are working to renovate a bathroom in the home of Charles E. Baxter on Eastland Drive in Columbia. Students also recently completed fitting a new drainage system at the rear of the home.
About $3,000 in funds donated by Legends Restaurant, First Farmers and Merchants Bank and the Lee Company are being used to finance the project.
“I think a lot of it,” said Baxter, who has lived in the home for nearly half a century, and retired after 30 years making tires for Firestone and then Bridgestone in La Vergne.
“I appreciate what they are doing,” Baxter said. “I appreciate it very much. It is very nice.”
He said he would have not been able to afford the renovations on his own.
“You know how it is when you are on a fixed income,” Baxter said. “You are not going to get that much.”
The courses offered by Build and Learn range from general maintenance to heavy equipment operations. It provides a training opportunity for those who may have previously dropped out of school or struggle to find employment due to a past criminal record.
“It is all about encouraging them and letting them know they can learn if they are presented with the information in a format that they can comprehend,” Jones said. “That is the basis of build and learn.”
A Build and Learn course typically lasts about 12 weeks, with classes ranging in size from four to eight students.
Build and Learn graduated recently completed road improvements to Monsanto Road in Maury County.
Since moving the program to Columbia, Build and Learn students have completed more than 30 projects in Maury County and had at least six graduates complete the program.
“We just want to help people in the community who need help but can’t afford it,” Jones said. “I get a lot of joy out of it. It is a real joy for me. I think I have found my purpose.”
Jones said build and learn relies on the support of community partners to fund each project, so the organization is continually seeking support to make sure the next project can be seen to fruition.
To contact Build & Learn visit http://buildlearn.org/ or email email@example.com.