Project WOW is a property maintenance, repair and GED-preparation program open to Philadelphians ages 18 to 21 who lack a high school diploma.
D’Mitri Copeland, a 19-year-old from Mount Airy, attended five high schools before dropping out his junior year.
“School wasn’t my thing,” he said.
Copeland’s thing has turned out to be Project WOW (World of Work), a property-maintenance, repair/weatherization and GED preparation program.
Project WOW takes place at Orleans Technical Institute, a program of JEVS Human Services that is located at 2770 Red Lion Road. It is open to Philadelphians ages 18 to 21 who have no high school diploma and meet income eligibility requirements.
The state funds the 16-week program, and it is free for participants. They even receive a weekly transportation allowance and gift cards for perfect attendance.
“They’ve really hit the lottery and need to take advantage of it,” said program manager Sylvia Ocasio.
The out-of-school young people receive hands-on training and leave with job-ready skills in basic carpentry, electrical and plumbing.
Specifically, they learn framing; drywall; painting; tiling; door, window, toilet, bathtub and sink installation; welding; wiring of receptacles, switches and light fixtures; and sweating copper pipe.
Douglas Moore is the hands-on training instructor, and Victoria Meder teaches the GED class.
Classes are held weekdays from 7:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and lateness and absences are not tolerated, from orientation day to graduation day. Students learn interviewing skills, how to create a resume and job-seeking techniques so they can get and keep a job.
Recent graduates have been successful in entering the work force.
“They find jobs in the field, even though the economy is the way it is,” Ocasio said.
The current class started on Sept. 19 and concluded just a few weeks ago. Later this year, they will join other Orleans graduates at a ceremony, complete with cap and gown, at Northeast High School.
Fourteen people started, and just one has dropped out. The class consists of 10 men and three women.
Moore, the 37-year-old, Brooklyn-born training instructor, graduated from a six-month Orleans carpentry class last February. He’s been teaching Project WOW since May and believes he can connect with the students because he knows their struggles of growing up in single-parent homes and being unemployed or working at a dead-end job.
“But I don’t let them use that as a crutch,” he said. “I’m not going to hold their hand, but I am going to walk with them on this route.”
Moore does hope to become sort of a role model for his students and family.
“If I want to raise productive children, I have to be productive,” he said.
Moore had grand goals for his students.
“I want to produce entrepreneurs,” he said. “I want to produce the next generation that’s going to run this world.”
Copeland has learned everything from teamwork to demolishing a building.
Upon graduation, he’ll be willing to work for free for the experience.
At some point, he wants to become certified in heating, ventilation and air conditioning. He’s glad he enrolled in the program.
“I’ve learned a lot. When I started coming here, I valued school more,” he said. “This is a free opportunity, and I have to take advantage of it. It’s turned out good. It’s a wonderful program. I look at Orleans as the turning point in my life.
“Once I leave here, I’m going to look for work, and my goal is to get certified in HVAC and carpentry. I want to be an entrepreneur.”
Jeremy DeSilvis attended Charlotte High School in Florida. He got in fights and left in 10th grade because some students began bringing weapons to school.
“After I dropped out, I worked with my dad for a while, then moved back to Philly,” he said.
Today, he is 20 and lives in Holmesburg. He came to Project WOW with carpentry experience from working with his dad and has learned enough in the program to be able to fix a recent major plumbing problem with his bathroom sink.
“I’m thinking about coming back here and learning more about plumbing,” he said of post-graduation plans.
Keven McCarthy, a 20-year-old from Rhawnhurst, attended Thomas Shallcross School starting in seventh grade. He left in 11th grade. He worked in fast-food restaurants but now wants to build a brighter future because he has a young daughter. He responded to a newspaper ad about the program.
“It sounded like a good opportunity,” he said. “It’s opened up my mind more.”
McCarthy said he’s learned to be responsible in the classroom and hopes to bring that to the work site.
“I want to start a little business and build the business from the ground up,” he said. ••
For more information on Project WOW, contact Sylvia Ocasio at 215-728-4707 or Sylvia.firstname.lastname@example.org