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Hammering Home Positive Lessons : Program Teaches Inner-City Students Construction Basics

September 21, 1986|KAREN LAVIOLA | Laviola lives in Cerritos

While transforming a repossessed dilapidated house in Compton into one of the nicest homes in the neighborhood, some of the 15 inner-city high school students who learned how to paint, patch, build and lay carpeting this summer also made transformations in themselves.

William T. Gray, an architectural drafting teacher at Jefferson High School until his retirement in 1981, has spent 15 summers teaching the basics of construction to 225 high school-age boys and girls from the Los Angeles Unified School District.

'Batting a Thousand'

Gray is understandably proud that many of his students have gone on to become contractors, policemen, firemen and paramedics. The Youth Housing Opportunities Program is "batting a thousand," he said, noting that not one participant has been fired or quit. Students are recommended for the program by their school counselors.

The program is sponsored in part by Great Western Savings, which selects one of its repossessed houses for the project each year, pays for materials and labor and sells it when the house is completed.

"We hope to sell to a family who will be a positive influence and help stabilize and contribute to the neighborhood," said Ian Campbell, senior vice president of corporate communications for Great Western Financial Corp.

Calling Gray "the heart and soul of the program," Campbell said it is difficult to find instructors who have the technical skills, the ability to work with teen-agers and the willingness to devote a summer to the project.

Said Gray of his students: "I love to see them, especially when a kid has a problem and you see him getting on the other side of the fence. It's an enjoyment I can't explain."

Another sponsor, the Home Builders Council, provides students with advisers during every step of the restoration--from plumbing and electrical work to dry-wall installation and ceiling repair.

"There are not a lot of programs where you can get a salary, school credit and job skills at the same time," said Kevin Hawkins, public information officer for Great Western. "These kids are learning real job skills as opposed to a shop class."

When asked what he would have done had he not worked on the Compton house, Jose Perez, 19, said he probably would have worked in a warehouse. Perez, who has worked on the project for three summers, this year helped Gray supervise the newcomers.

"This is not real hard," said Perez, who is studying carpentry at Los Angeles Trade Technical School. "I mean it's hard, but I like to do it and, if you do something you like, it's not hard."

When Jose Juarez, 16, a junior at Jefferson High School, entered the program, he knew nothing about fixing houses. Now, he noted: "You can fix your own house, you can fix anything. My dad knows a lot more than me, but now I can get along with him a lot better."

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