Times Union | April 23, 2021 | Link to the article
Demetrius Collymore joked that his children have taken to calling him “Daddy the builder” when they see him making repairs around their Scotia home.
And Collymore noted during class Thursday at Washington Irving Educational Center that he feels a lot more confident now then he did when construction instructor George van der Wouden tapped him a few months back to supervise the renovation work in a room at a tiny, nearly-century-old Schenectady church.
“I feel like I can do that now and visualize it, but at the time you said it, I looked at you like you were crazy,” Collymore told van der Wouden as Colly-more talked about his future plans to open a business and help the community.
It’s a far cry from Collymore’s days working at an unsatisfiying job tending bar and serving food at a restaurant.
“I was just basically working, I didn’t have any type of direction, the places that I was at, there didn’t seem to be any room to go up,” he added.
Collymore, 34, is one of a dozen young adults who are part of a free program that teaches unemployed and underemployed people how to frame, hang and tape drywall, as well as paint through a yearlong program jointly sponsored by former Union College President Roger Hull’s “Help Yourself Win” foundation and the Schenectady school district. They were making renovations Thursday at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Mumford Street.
“The goals here are to give the students a skill set to restart their lives,” said Hull.
He’s hoping to attract other nonprofit groups who have a structure that could serve as a lab for the students to get some hands on practical experience.
The Rev. Felicia Collins said van der Wouden and the students in the construction trade program have been a godsend. Before they started making the repairs, Collins said that the 97-year-old church had only had minor repairs.
Today, Bethel has a gleaming new yellow front door, new exit signs and hardware on the doors and new LED lights. The water stain on the ceiling inside the front entrance from the leaky roof is gone and the church has been painted.
“Really what they have done, they have brightened up the building in such a way that it’s more inviting as you come into it,” Collins said. “The beauty of it too is that they are young men and women from the community, and they are the most pleasant hardworking — you would think that it’s their church.”
Collins said the church pays for the supplies and materials but gets free labor.
When the students are not at Bethel, they are in the classroom learning life skills from teacher Qaadir Islam and studying to earn the necessary national certifications that will pave the way for them to open up their own businesses or apply for apprenticeships.
Dishana Johnson, 27, said she lost all her contracts as a marketing consultant once the pandemic hit last year.
She said that experience caused her to look at learning some new skill sets that would also be in demand. She has her sights set on being a painter.
“I wanted something that’s going to be around where I don’t have to keep worrying about ‘what am I going to do?’ … This is something that you can do anywhere,” said the 27-year-old Johnson, who lives with her parents.
While Collins said Bethel is grateful to the program for all the upgrades, she said the chruch has started a Go-FundMe page “Under Construction with a Mission’ with a goal of $30,000 to help raise money to pay for a new roof and pave the parking lot.
Read the article on the Times Union website.