Hassani Enow is oblivious to the buff-colored paint smudge in his dark hair as he rolls fresh paint up the wall at the Seattle University Student Center. His concentration is fixed on Facilities Services Painter Eugene Lunoff, who is sharing the finer points of his skilled trade.
“When you roll up, no pressure at the top, just light,” Lunoff tells Enow as they complete a touch-up on a wall where table edges routinely chip away at the paint. Lunoff, a native of Latvia, says this particular wall demands a refresh about every six months.
It’s a good project for young Enow, a student at Rainier Beach High School who came to the U.S. seven years ago from Kenya. “I like painting because I get to work with my hands,” Enow says.
What brings an eager Kenyan and a sage Latvian together on the SU campus with a gallon or two of paint is all about mentorship. Career Workplace Exploration in Skilled Trades (CWEST) is a program for Seattle high school students who want to learn more about building trades such as carpentry, plumbing, welding, drywall and electrical.
It’s a semester-long course that began in 1997 at Rainier Beach High School to give teens a taste of several trades and help them learn what’s expected on a jobsite. While Rainier Beach students are in the majority, the program is open to any junior or senior in the Seattle School District.
After basic safety and orientation, youths are matched with facilities maintenance workers at SU, Seattle School District, Port of Seattle, City of Seattle Parks, Facilities Maintenance and Seattle City Light and rotate through the trades two afternoons each week. They earn $180 a month in wages for their work, too.
Rainier Beach students Tika Biswa Diyali, a native of Nepal, and Abdigani Mohamed, a native of Somalia, attempted to fix a leaky faucet in the small kitchen adjacent to the Bottom Line in the Pigott Building. With guidance from SU Plumber Johnny Llamas, they discovered this was no easy fix. A new faucet would be needed.
“I’m all for a program like this,” Llamas says, “because you can’t take knowledge away from someone.”
Mohamed, who lives near S. Jackson St. and Rainier Ave. S., says he hopes to become a health worker He has applied to three universities, SU among them.
“I like coming to a university, meeting new faces and new people,” Mohamed says.
Before the winter holidays, Enow took both the SAT and ACT and said he aspires to become a social worker, painter or professional soccer player. The Yesler Terrace resident has played soccer at Rainier Beach for the past two years.
SU Carpenter Dan McKnight showed Jose Rosales, another Rainier Beach student who lives near Harborview Medical Center, how to remove a few hard-to-see street signs in the East Columbia Street turnaround with a reciprocating saw and remount the signs on taller stationary poles there. Based on a field trip he took as part of his CWEST class, Rosales said he hopes to become a sprinkler fitter.
Since 2010, the university has partnered with both CWEST and a much larger offering sponsored by the city, called Seattle Youth Employment Program (SYEP). The SYEP program also includes summer opportunities for youth and focuses on work readiness as well as academic support, tutoring, internships, even field trips to colleges and universities.
Specific outcomes are tough to track, according to Donna Horn, manager of operations and quality in Facilities Services at SU. “We don’t get much opportunity to connect with the students after they leave here to know what they do next,” says Horn, who coordinates all student employees among the various shops and units.
Richard Ely, the welder (turns out he was lead welder on the Chapel of St. Ignatius) and Rainier Beach teacher who directs the CWEST program, suggests the success of the program is best measured in how students develop knowledge about a variety of trades, build relationships with people who work in those trades and learn what it takes to do well in the workplace.
“Our mentors are fine people with a great deal of patience,” Ely says. “It’s all about giving these kids a chance to succeed.”