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Del Mar College and Nueces County Sheriff’s Office Announce Partnership to Train Selected Inmates as Carpenters for Construction Industry (Updated: Video)

DMC Continuing Education now training second cohort at Nueces County McKenzie Jail Annex, “building” inmates’ skills through Carpentry – Construction Skills Training Program

Article by Melinda Eddleman

The program is an opportunity for a second chance and a road down a different path. 

On July 12, he Nueces County Sheriff’s Office (NCSO) and Del Mar College (DMC) administrators jointly announced their partnership to train carpentry skills to selected inmates through the DMC Continuing Education Construction Skills Training Program. The training will help meet the demand for skilled workers in the construction industry in the Coastal Bend and provide participants at the McKinzie Jail Annex with life-changing skills for a better future in a high-demand field. 

Sheriff John C. Hooper’s idea for a training program for Nueces County inmates originated during a community event two years ago when a former inmate approached him to share his own success story of completing Del Mar College’s Rebuild Texas Carpentry Skills Training Program after his release. The Rebuild Texas program was developed in response to Hurricane Harvey’s devastation in 2017 in the area and grant funded by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and the OneStar Foundation. 

Even though grant funding for Rebuild Texas ended, the College continued to provide carpentry training, expanded the program to cover other trades in the construction industry and renamed it the Construction Skills Training Program. The partnership between the NCSO and DMC is building on the revised program.

This is a great start, and, I’ll say start because there’s going to be more for the inmates and the community thanks to Del Mar College.

Nueces County Sheriff John C. Hooper

DMC Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Lenora Keas added, “We are committed to providing workforce skills that change lives and give people the opportunity to work and really make a good living, This partnership is greatly valued at the College and will provide a huge change within our own community and provide people coming out of your facility (McKinzie Jail Annex) with the opportunity to change their lives and the lives of their families through skilled carpentry jobs.”

The NCSO and DMC entered into a Memorandum of Understanding in May, and training of the first cohort in carpentry work began May 23 and finished June 30.

Funding for the training partly comes from a Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Building and Construction Trades grant targeting young workers between ages 16 and 24 who are currently not enrolled in school or presently not employed. These individuals are identified as “Opportunity Youth,” and the goal is to prepare them for high demand jobs in the industry. Funding for other students who do not meet eligibility under the TWC grant are funded by Nueces County. The tuition is $270 for each participant.

NCSO Inmate Jeremy Pena

Among the first cohort to complete the carpentry program and who spoke during the announcement is 19-year-old Jeremy Pena or “J.P.” He was arrested for theft of property and identified as out of school, out of work and homeless at the time of intake by the NCSO. Pena was also identified as an Opportunity Youth with his training covered by the TWC grant.

When asked during the announcement what he learned, Pena responded, “I’ve learned the basics of carpentry, how to frame and build a house from the ground up, take measurements and use power tools like the miter saw and nail gun. I’d like to further my education and take more courses to earn more certification because you know you’ll be able to get a secure job.”

Pena added, “It was a good six weeks, and it felt good to do something with my time other than just sitting around.”

When asked if he had learned carpentry skills before being incarcerated would he have changed his life, Pena responded, “Yes. I would never have done what I did to be here in the first place. I would have gone and used that certification to get a job.”

NCSO Inmate Jeremy Pena and DMC Instructor Arnold Mendez

Selected inmates must be current misdemeanor offenders, including those with current or pending Misdemeanor Assault Charges and inmates with a prior conviction for a Felony Assault Charge. Those NOT allowed to participate are inmates with a prior conviction for any type of Felony Aggravated Charge; a current or pending Evading Arrest Charge, Fleeing Charge or Escape Charge; a prior conviction for Evading Arrest Charge, Fleeing Charge or Escape Charge; and inmates classified as Protective Custody.

Four participants out of eight who started as the first cohort finished the six-week program on June 30. The second cohort of nine started their training on July 5. The program can accommodate between 10 to 15 students during each period with two DMC instructors providing the hands-on training experience needed to develop the skills employers seek.

Participants attend all-day training Monday through Thursday for six weeks to complete 176 contact hours focused on honing their carpentry skills. This program gives them an overview of commonly recognized construction skills, including safety, construction math, hand and power tools, carpentry, exterior and interior coverings as well as safety training expected among workers on a job site.

 “Our Construction Skills Training Program serves all residents in the Coastal Bend, and its success as an award-winning program has positioned Del Mar College to be the model for student tailored, employer driven construction programs for other colleges in Texas,” said Arnold Mendez, DMC Construction Skills Training Program Manager and one of the two instructors teaching at the McKinzie Jail Annex. “Most importantly, we’re training a unique population here in Nueces County so they have the skills to enter our workforce and meet the continuing high demand in construction.”

Last year, DMC Continuing Education prepared 300 students in the construction trades and has branched out from teaching carpentry to training courses in plumbing, cabinetry, print reading, trim and stairs construction and housing wiring.

Since revising Rebuild Texas and through other funding, the Construction Skills Training Program has served 774 participants with 574 completing the training. Additionally, 40% of these students are employed in the construction workforce.

Of the partnership with the Nueces County Sheriff’s Office, Mendez said, “Our objective is to transition these students with their newly acquired carpentry skills into our regional construction workforce.”

Dr. Leonard Rivera, Dean of DMC Continuing Education & Off-Campus Programs under which the program runs, added, “This is a cultivation of sorts, a transformation,  that really allows these students to learn a skill in this trade that’s very much in demand so they can  become employable once they exit this facility. We’re giving these participants a second chance at becoming contributing members of our community, and that’s what it’s about–transforming lives.”

About Del Mar College

Del Mar College empowers students to achieve their dreams. We offer quality programs, individual attention, outstanding instruction through faculty with real-world experience and affordable costs to credit and noncredit students in Corpus Christi and the South Texas Coastal Bend area. Nationally recognized while locally focused, we’re ranked in the top two percent of community colleges in the country granting associate degrees to Hispanic students (Community College Week). Del Mar College focuses on offering our students programs that match current or emerging career opportunities. Whether students are interested in the fine arts, sciences, business, occupational or technical areas, students get the education they need for the future they want at Del Mar College.