Federal Grant Gives Rhode Island Minorities A Future in Construction

We may soon see more women and minorities building our roads and bridges. A federal grant given to a local construction training program focuses on those who don't have a leg up, giving them a chance in the construction industry.

To qualify for the program you have to be a resident of the Ocean State and make under 24 thousand dollars a year. The program, Building Futures, is all about opportunity for the less fortunate, who with this training, are ready to work when we need them.

Single mom of three, Tina James, would have never imagined herself in a hard hart and tool belt.

James laughed as she questioned her decision to go into the program, “Really construction? Are you sure, can your body take it? Are you going to feel comfortable around the men? that's usually always the question.”

Today 34-year-old James believes there are no limits to what she can do.

“It taught me a lot about myself that I can do anything a man can do,” said James.

James is a full time bartender. When she joined Building Futures, she put the drink mixing aside and picked up a hammer and a nail.

“It's definitely work on the hips to get used to carrying so many tools on you, but it feels good I love it,” she laughed.

A 350,000 dollar federal grant funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act gave James the chance to graduate from the five week program at Building Futures, all expenses paid.

The money is geared towards training women and minorities. Groups that Michael Lewis, The Director of The Rhode Island Department of Transportation, says are ignored.

“It was an existing program that they've had, but by bringing this 350,000 in they can expand it make it larger bring in more people,” explained Lewis.

State and local leaders along with The RIDOT celebrated the programs success on Monday. Current and former students stood by to share their success stories.

One of whom is Miguel Berrios, a graduate of Building Futures, who's now working as a union mason.

“I'm not jumping ship anytime soon I'm there until I retire,” said Berrios.

The program puts opportunity into the hands of those who would otherwise never hold it.

“There's just no limit, I think anything they throw at me I can learn and I hope more women follow” said James.

Since Building Futures started in 2007, they've put 100 people to work in construction.

Tina James is bartending as she waits to join the iron workers program in April, where she'll learn how to reinforce iron and steel for roads and bridges.