We’ve been writing about groups and businesses impacting change in the Franklinton neighborhood. You’ve no doubt seen the construction sites popping up. But what you probably haven’t noticed are the teenagers and young adults who are involved with rehabbing homes in the area. These young trainees are learning skills that will help reshape not just Franklinton’s exterior facade, but also their lives.
These young adults are part of a group called Franklinton Rising, which began operations in 2015. The non-profit organization purchases run-down homes with donations, grants, and some help from the city of Columbus. The group recruits young people from the neighborhood to renovate the houses. It’s sort of like an apprenticeship. The recruits receive on-the-job training from contractors; they’re also coached on the importance of setting life goals. The current group of trainees are all between the ages of 17 and 25; pay starts at $8.50 per hour with the chance for promotions. Once training is complete, the organization then helps the participants find permanent jobs. Franklinton Rising’s president, Tom Heffner, explained the group’s mission and how it all got started.
“The idea was, let’s take young adults who are probably not going to college, and let’s see if we can help train them for life and for jobs. And to help them become productive members of the community. We started with a Christian foundation of trying to help people. So the idea was if you can get young adults, and help them learn a trade, help them learn skills, help them develop life skills, they’re going to have a greater opportunity for employment.”
One of those people is 25-year-old DeVille Morrow. He’s been involved with Franklinton Rising since March of 2017. “I called [Tom Heffner] on a Tuesday, met him on Wednesday, and started going to classes on Thursday. That Saturday he got me working.” Morrow described the work skills he has acquired in the last few months. “Everything from demolition work, flooring work, building stairs, little bit of drywalling and painting, carpentry, plumbing and electrical work. I’ve been interested in this [type of work] since I was 16. I just liked watching people build houses since I was young.”
Heffner: “In most communities, we’ve done a terrible disservice to young adults by telling them that they must go to college… when the reality is we have kids going to college today graduating with no jobs and $50,000 or more in debt. Whereas a young adult who goes through training and really works hard, by the time they’re between 20 and 25, can be making $50k, $60k, $70k a year with virtually no debt. So there’s tremendous advantage for people who don’t necessarily want to gravitate toward academics.”
Heffner is right about that. First, consider these stats: 44% of Franklinton households are earning less than $15,000 per year. And nearly 50% of adults in the neighborhood do not have a high school diploma. Now let’s compare that to what adults can earn as skilled laborers. Here’s a look at mean annual wages, via the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Construction laborer: $37,890
Construction Manager: $99,000
For Franklinton Rising, helping trainees land jobs with salaries like these is the goal– not profits. The organization loses money on each home it renovates. One of the two-sided houses Heffner showed me was a tear-down they purchased for $2,500.
The group spent $170,000 to renovate the building (in materials and labor costs). When the house was appraised, its value was set at about $72,500. Think about that. That’s a $100,000 loss. (Both sides of the house are now rented). But again, as Heffner explained, making money isn’t the point of the organization– making positive changes in Franklinton is the goal.
Heffner: “The idea is if [the trainees] have skills, and confidence in themselves… the likelihood of them being incarcerated and going down a destructive path is far less. And so that’s one of the reasons we believe them developing skills, getting full-time employment, and understanding principles of life, is a way to help them not only not be incarcerated, but they’re not going to be on the rolls of welfare. They’re going to be productive citizens. Paying taxes, paying for services, and being good role models for others.”
Heffner also explained that Franklinton Rising wants to eventually sell these renovated homes back to the trainees who worked on them. “They can go from being a young adult who didn’t have any idea what they were going to do in life, with no skills relatively speaking, to individuals who have skills… and ultimately end up with a house. Maybe one of the nicest houses in the neighborhood, and hopefully be great role models for other young adults; to prove to them they don’t have to live in poverty. If they’ll work hard, they too can not only survive but do very well.”
Morrow: “As far as life skills, I’ve learned a little bit more about teamwork. The criticalness of being on-time. Working hard. Patience. If something becomes frustrating, take a step back, think about it, come back to it. That’s a way for me to learn.”
Morrow also described Franklinton Rising as a family atmosphere. “Everyone here, everybody basically is family-oriented. They talk a lot about the Bible, going to church, trying to keep people on their toes and on the right path. Basically showing people that… if you like working with your hands, this is where you want to be. If you love the job, it’ll be more about your job than about the money. Whatever job you love, of course you’re gonna keep wanting to go there, and stay at it. So I think this program is good for anybody who wants to come in and do something better with themselves.”