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Lives Being Turned Around Through Building Trades Pre-Apprenticeship Program in Boston

An Operation Exit graduate is hugged by his godfather (Scott Eisen/Boston Globe)

An Operation Exit graduate is hugged by his godfather (Scott Eisen/Boston Globe)

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Operation Exit, a pre-apprenticeship program in Boston for people who have been in the criminal justice system or are considered “high risk,” has graduated its second class of students. The program’s champion, Mayor Marty Walsh, was on hand to speak to the graduates. 

The program began last year when Walsh reached out to building trades unions about creating a program to combat violence and give “opportunities to people who don’t have opportunities.”  

Operation Exit functions out of Sheet Metal Workers International Association Local 17’s training facility in Dorchester, a neighborhood increasingly plagued by youth violence and crime.  The program is a three-and-a-half week course in which participants earn CPR, workplace safety, and first aid certifications.  Participants are introduced to various skilled construction trades.  Eventually, they learn basic job skills including how to weld and complete projects such as making tool boxes, trash cans, and tin flower boxes.  Graduates then interview with local unions for apprenticeships.  Union leaders meet with the graduates each Monday until they have found a job.  

Mayor Walsh told the graduates: “I’m proud of all of you in this class.  I don’t care what your [criminal record] says. I don’t care what you did in the past. . . . All I care about is what’s going on in the future.”

Police Commissioner William B. Evans also spoke to the graduates, imploring them to give back to their communities by reaching out to young people who may be on the negative path from whence they came.  Mayor Walsh echoed this call to action, noting that police have reported local gangs in Dorchester targeting 11 to 14-year-olds for initiation:

“I’m targeting them too.  I’m targeting them so that we can give them opportunities so they don’t have to go down the road that a lot of us in this room went down.”

Walsh, a former union organizer and building trades leader, himself had a difficult youth in a rough section of Boston. What turned his life around? Joining the trades.  

Also speaking at the event was class co-president Donan “Chucky” Cosme.  The 28-year-old spent 6 months in jail.  Upon release, his parole officer informed him of Operation Exit.  Cosme told The Boston Globe:

“Once I got out, I had a choice: To continue making poor decisions or commit myself to making a better life for me and my kids.  That’s when I received my golden ticket and was referred to Operation Exit.”

Cosme now wants to begin a career installing sprinkler systems in high-rise buildings.  He said of his future as an apprentice:

“My last jobs were jobs. This is a career. This is a lifetime thing.”


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