Head of the Class

D’Mitri Cope­land, 19, cuts a piece of plastic to be in­stalled on a mock home at Or­leans Tech­nic­al In­sti­tute. A high school dro­pout, Cope­land has found a haven in Pro­ject WOW. JENNY SWI­GODA/TIMES PHOTO

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.oca­sio@jevs.org

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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