Meet Victor Picena, proud member and apprentice of the Carpenters Union. He was born in Los Angeles and life was not particularly good for him at first. Victor found himself in a gang and doing everything wrong to be successful and get ahead. He was told by a friend that union construction work would be a good path to straighten his life out, make good money, have benefits and have a real shot at a life. Victor gave it a try. He decided to join the Carpenters Apprenticeship program.

Victor expected to learn the trade of a carpenter-what he did not expect to find was instructors that not only taught him the basics and advanced skills of the carpenters trade but men that would be mentors to him. These apprenticeship instructors saw that Victor was a good guy at heart and that he wanted to succeed in life. These instructors went out of their way to help, guide and mentor him. They certainly taught him the trade but it was more than that: “They were my guides in life, they actually cared,” says Victor. He soon cleaned-up his act and went to work on living the rest of his life.

As a fourth-period apprentice, Victor felt he owed something back to the unions and in particular to the mentors that helped him. He decided that he would try to make a difference. He also decided that not enough people with clout, in particular political clout, knew what great things happen at all these apprenticeship schools. He found a way to make that difference and a spotlight to these union apprentice programs. On his days off and his own time, Victor went to city hall and would sit in a local city councilman’s office until they agreed to tour the apprenticeship facility with him. Victor has been persistent and successful. He was also pleased that many politicians were more than willing to take the tour and learn about the programs.

In January, Victor arranged for Los Angeles councilman Bernard Parks to tour the Whittier Apprenticeship facility. Councilman Parks has a strong reputation in helping the local community and agreed to tour the school with Victor. During the tour of a Los Angeles training center, Victor explained to Parks that these instructors are more than just teachers on trade knowledge; they are life coaches to these young men and women who need guidance and that the city should support and encourage the efforts of these programs to the best of their ability.

As it turns out, the councilman is no stranger to the wall and ceiling industry and hard work. His father was a union lather and he himself started out as a plaster tender when he was young. He informed the group it was the hardest work he had ever done in his life and inspired him to continue his college education. Councilman Parks had an uncanny knowledge of construction practices and obviously had experience. His construction knowledge was a bit dated as he asked if “button board” was still used on the inside of buildings (button board was a slang term used for gypsum lath with punched holes). The use of button board was the prominent interior product in the ’50s in Southern California and died out when gypsum wallboard took over in the 1960s. However, Parks did impress the tour group with his knowledge and respect for our trade.

So as it turns out, one man can make a difference. But the question is, who is that man? Victor Picena, the reformed gang member with a mission to help and inform; Bernard Parks, the councilman with political clout and savvy to make changes happen on a larger scale or is it the apprentice instructor who takes the time and patience with a troubled youth and puts him on the right path.

Ultimately it is all of us working together, putting aside personnel desires, prejudices and selfish motives, to better the industry and humanity. W&C