Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse commits to sustainability and builds careers

A set of light screens decorate a wall inside the Evanston Reconstruction Warehouse. (Photo by Adina Keeling)

Hidden gems are scattered around the rustic warehouse at 1245 Hartrey Ave. Faux candles and sparkling crystals adorn a wall light fixture, and a luxurious soaking tub marks the end of aisle three. Even the wooden planks hidden in the back of the warehouse have hidden value, as they are hewn from old wood over 100 years old, said store manager Ryan Tucker.

Tucker works at the Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse, a local nonprofit that collects donated furniture, kitchen cabinets, appliances, doors and other building materials, which are sold at a discount.

But the warehouse is much more than a retail store. The organization, founded in 2011, has an extensive list of services and resources that benefit the community while practicing accessibility and sustainability.

Last May, the organization merged with Rebuilding Exchange, a Chicago-based nonprofit. Together, these two elements function as one, offering public workshops, a labor training program for the unemployed and a sustainable deconstruction service, as well as two warehouses – one in Evanston and one in Chicago – overflowing given building materials.

In a few weeks, the nonprofit will add another gem to its roster of services: a new Evanston-based pre-apprenticeship program. This program aims to remove some of the barriers that prevent potential workers from accessing apprenticeships in the trades and obtaining construction jobs.

Similar pre-apprenticeship programs are set to expand across the state, funded by a nearly $10 million grant from the state of Illinois to 23 organizations, including Evanston’s nonprofit.

Executive Director Aina Gutierrez speaks at the January 27 press conference. (Photo credit: Rebuilding Exchange)

“We’re really excited to be part of this grant,” said Aina Gutierrez, executive director of the Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse. Unlike the nonprofit’s existing training program, the pre-apprenticeship program will involve more classroom work, helping trainees qualify for union and non-union apprenticeship programs, which can be highly inaccessible, a she declared.

For example, carpenters do a lot of reading and math, so anyone interested in a carpentry apprenticeship will need to take an exam, Gutierrez said. They are also required to pay an entrance fee, bring their own tools and work clothes and find a way to get to the apprenticeship, she added. These terms can be major hurdles for some candidates.

In addition to job training, the warehouse can help people acquire tools, proper clothing and a bus pass, Gutierrez said. The pre-apprenticeship program will also allow trainees to discover the trades they like and those they dislike.

“Sometimes people just need that little nudge to get them on the right track,” Gutierrez said. “That’s what pre-learning is for.”

Illinois also benefits from these programs because they will create a larger construction workforce needed to complete large projects funded by President Joe Biden’s Federal Infrastructure Act and Rebuild Illinois. a six-year capital infrastructure project, Gutierrez said.

Governor JB Pritzker gives a press conference at the Rebuilding Exchange in Chicago. (Photo credit: Rebuilding Exchange)

To celebrate the new program, Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce held a press conference at the Rebuilding Exchange site in Chicago on January 27, discussing the grant and the Illinois Works pre-apprenticeship program.

“In an industry that has always been far more white and male-dominated than the population it serves, programming built around breaking down barriers is more important than ever,” Pritzker said at the press conference.

Even before receiving the Illinois grant, the Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse pledged to increase diversity in the building trades by making the path to employment more accessible.

The non-profit workforce training program is designed to support those facing barriers to employment, including poverty, homelessness, or past incarceration. Interns are paid minimum wage, 24 hours a day for 20 weeks.

The non-profit organization also supports interns by assessing barriers that might prevent someone from getting a job and working to reduce those barriers. At the end of the 20 weeks, the warehouse helps connect the interns to gainful employment.

“They helped me with so much more than work,” said Chad Lemke, a graduate of the workforce training program. (Photo by Adina Keeling)

Chad Lemke is a 2019 graduate of the Workforce Training Program. He joined the program after struggling to find a job and struggling with homelessness. The program was “awesome” and every day he learned something new, the Chicago resident said.

“They helped me with so much more than work,” Lemke said. After graduating from the program, the nonprofit found him a job at another company, but unfortunately that job was the wrong one, he said.

Lemke found himself out of work, but browsing the web discovered a retail associate job posting at the Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse, he said. He applied and now works for the association.

“It’s been great fun being back here and seeing everyone again,” Lemke said. “I couldn’t ask for better people to work with.”

Other graduates of the program went on to work as painters, handymen, HVAC repairmen and more, Gutierrez said. The 20-week program provides trainees with marketable credentials, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s 10-hour construction training certificate and forklift certification as well as lead paint certification from the Environmental Protection Agency. These documents help graduates of the program earn higher salaries, she said.

When the interns are not working in the field, they are at the Hartrey warehouse. (Photo by Adina Keeling)

Throughout the workforce training program, trainees either work at the Hartrey warehouse or receive hands-on training in the field. The association offers the deconstruction of buildings and kitchens as an alternative to demolition, and much of this work is done by the interns.

Deconstruction consists of dismantling a house in order to reuse building materials. Most of the time, the owners then donate their materials to the association. Because the warehouse is a 501(c)3 charity, owners receive a tax deduction for any donated materials.

In addition to ensuring accessibility and practicing sustainability, the warehouse offers a number of workshops that teach community members practical skills such as how to rewire a light fixture or how to build a floating shelf. These workshops are listed on the association website.

The warehouse is a community-driven organization where sustainability and job training come together, Gutierrez said.

The nonprofit also wants to show members of the community, especially young Evanstonians, that they don’t need to go to college or follow a more traditional career path to have a career. fulfilling or enduring, Gutierrez said.

“There’s a ton of applications for trades jobs right now,” she said. “We need to do our part to get more people from our community into these jobs.”

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