It was an unseasonably warm day in October when the new student workers of the BUILD team stepped onto the job site. The first task: rehabilitate a 2-bedroom house before the end of the month. A family experiencing homelessness in the NCO New Digs program was waiting to move in.

“I’ve been doing remodels with my brother, and at the end of the job, it is very awesome when you have a pleased customer,” said Gavin, a Cohort 6 participant.

Of the six student workers, most have some experience in construction and building. From substance use disorder, entanglements with the law, rocky childhoods, and housing insecurity, all have faced personal struggles and barriers in life. Yet these young men are highly motivated to start a new chapter, discover their purpose, and set out on a path to financial stability.

“My daughter and family motivate me, and so does growing as an individual and with others,” said Eric, another participant.

“I would like to start a new chapter in my life, and this seems like the right step,” shared another participant, Gregg.

Daniel is ready to be the first in his family to achieve something different, he says. Neither of his parents finished high school, and his dad barely made it to 8th grade before dropping out. 

“I cannot change the past, but I can live for today and make better choices for tomorrow,” shared Daniel. “I am working towards the best version of me I can possibly be. I want to learn; I want to do something different with my life; I want to educate myself and have a career that makes me feel confident and valuable. I want to be a productive and self-sufficient member of society.”

Jerome, who has experience in demolition and heavy lifting but “really loves working with dirt,” is eager to learn more about electrical and carpentry. His one-year plan after graduating from the BUILD program is to take on an apprenticeship.

“I’ve always been interested in this field of work, so having a program designed to get you to the next step seems very beneficial,” said Jerome.

Through partnerships with Mendocino College Lake Center, the BUILD program offers participants the ability to earn college credits alongside their hands-on projects. Last month they met with their instructor Michael Ross for their construction lecture and lab. Several were in disbelief when told, “Congratulations, you are officially college students.” Many didn’t think that higher education was possible for them. 

The goal of BUILD is to give people a chance to gain training and work experience in the construction industry who would otherwise have a challenging time getting their foot in the door—while earning the dignity of a wage. More than 40 applicants applied for this fall’s cohort, indicating a strong need for this type of career development training in Lake County.

“We chose the six candidates because they demonstrated a true need and clear goals to step into leadership roles in Lake County,” said Derek Fiedler-Riddle, BUILD’s Lead Project Coordinator. “They showed us that they would make the most of all the opportunities the BUILD training program offers them. And so far, they are proving us right.”

For some participants, achieving financial stability is only one of their goals. Thomas is also motivated to give back to the community while creating his own.

“I was interested in this program for the opportunity to help a family in need and build up a community,” shared Thomas. He is taking the program while supporting 4 kids and attending college. “I want to learn something new, give my knowledge of construction to someone, and work better with people.”


Left to Right:  Thomas, Eric, Daniel, Gavin, Gregg, Jerome  


NCO BUILD (formerly Building Homes, Building Lives) is a 3-month course providing paid work experience and job readiness in construction and building trades for housing or employment-insecure individuals. In this “earn-and-learn” format, participants receive hands on-education and mentorship directly from professionals in the field. At the end of the program, each graduating participant receives a letter of recommendation, a certificate of completion, job placement opportunities, and on-the-job equipment. Of the participants who graduated from BUILD, 87% have secured stable employment after 3 months. To learn more about BUILD, visit

[This archive item was originally published on Thursday, October 27, 2022]

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