Back in 2004, Greg Cardona was a newly minted St. Martin of Tours graduate on his way to Father Judge High School for what seemed like a promising athletic career.
Cardona played football and basketball as a freshman at Father Judge, but left after one year. He spent his sophomore year at North Catholic, then enrolled at Samuel Fels as a junior.
Fels was walking distance from Cardona’s home on Cheltenham Avenue in Oxford Circle, but he started to cut class. He dropped out midway through the 2006-07 school year.
“I kind of got with the wrong crowd,” he said.
Next, he enrolled in the twilight program at Northeast High, but left after six months.
“I was going nowhere fast,” he said.
By 2009, he was ready to change his lifestyle. His aunt, Dolly Cardona, works for JEVS Human Services and pointed him to the agency.
“I needed my GED and wanted a trade,” he said.
Cardona met with Sylvia Ocasio, program manager of Project WOW (World of Work), based at Orleans Technical Institute, a program of JEVS at 2770 Red Lion Road.
“We were a great match,” Ocasio said.
Project WOW is a free program funded by the state. It is open to Philadelphia residents ages 18 to 21 who have dropped out of high school and meet income limits. They must pass a test at sixth-grade reading level.
Cardona was accepted into the property maintenance repair/weatherization program and attended class regularly over 16 weeks while working at a fast-food restaurant at night. He was president of the class, which studied carpentry, electricity and plumbing.
“I learned the basics of all three. It was pretty much smooth sailing,” he said.
Today, at age 23, he’s married and has his GED. He lives on Marsden Street in Tacony with his wife, Glorybell, and their 10-month-old son, Gregory. He works at American Kitchen Machinery, located at 204 Quarry St. in Old City.
Project WOW nominated Cardona for a JEVS Inspiration Award, and the agency selected him as a winner. He received his award during JEVS’ 14th annual Strictly Business awards luncheon at the Sheraton hotel at 17th and Vine streets.
“This is an honor and an achievement. It’s something I didn’t think I’d be at,” Cardona said before receiving his award at the Oct. 25 ceremony, emceed by CBS 3 Eyewitness News anchorwoman Erika von Tiehl. “When my son is older, I’ll show him.”
Cardona, whose younger brother, Nicholas, also graduated from Project WOW, was joined at the event by his wife, parents and three sisters.
Besides learning the trade skills, Cardona and the others were taught job-interviewing skills and how to budget their money. The Project WOW staff monitored their attendance and classroom progress.
“A support system enabled him to succeed,” Ocasio said.
American Kitchen representatives visited Orleans and conducted interviews.
“I was hired the same day and started the next day. I’ve been there two and a half years,” Cardona said.
At American Kitchen, a family-owned business, he started as a helper for a few weeks before being promoted to technician. He has full-time work that he enjoys. He goes to places such as hospitals, hotels, sports stadiums and nursing homes to provide preventative maintenance on kitchen equipment.
Cardona believes he can grow with the company.
“It’s a good field to be in. I do my own jobs, and it’s something different every day,” he said.
Cardona has come a long way since his teenage years and is proud to have what looks like a bright future.
“I’m married, have a son and bought a house. I’m going to go with the flow and see what happens,” he said.
Among the other honorees was CableNet Services, which received the JEVS Business Leadership Award.
The Boothwyn, Delaware County-based firm, founded in 2004, has more than 300 employees, including some 250 technicians who work in Philadelphia, the suburbs and Delaware. It is Comcast’s largest contractor and has hired almost 30 Orleans Technical Institute graduates in the last two years.
Dwaine Mullings, director of technical training at CableNet, said he prefers targeting technical school graduates rather than attending job fairs when it comes to hiring.
Mullings explained that students usually can “hit the ground running” after being hired. They want to see a return on their investment and generally last longer on the job.
A member of the Orleans Technical Institute advisory board, Mullings said the school promotes electrical safety and does a good job of producing smart, hard-working, professional and punctual employees.
“I have a great relationship with Orleans,” he said. “The students have the work ethic that we need, and Orleans prepares them for that.” ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org