Neighborhood Renovation and Training Programs
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Sean Barnes aims to turn around lives, neighborhoods
By Melanie Savage
| Reminder News |
Jul 27, 2015 | 12:02 PM
Sean Barnes believes that residents are the key to improving any community. Barnes is the president and founder of the Neighborhood Renovations and Training Program, Inc. He dropped out of high school when he was 17 years old. At that time, he said, "I wished that there was a program that could provide training in construction while I obtained my high school diploma." Twenty-three years later, in 2001, with his G.E.D. and a bachelor's degree from CCSU under his belt, Neighborhood Renovations was born.
Renovations is a not-for-profit with a mission to educate young adults to obtain their G.E.D. and job-training skills in the field of construction. "We also repair homes for needy families that cannot afford it," said Barnes. The classroom facility is located on the Eastern Connecticut State University campus, and there is no cost required of apprentices. Renovations recently received two grants: from Savings Institute Bank and Trust Foundation and the Joseph P. Ossen Foundation. "These grants will be providing stipends, educational materials, tools, equipment, etc.," said Barnes. Although the classroom facility is located in Willimantic, "we are also recruiting individuals from surrounding towns such as Manchester, Norwich, and Killingly," said Barnes.
Statistics have shown that Willimantic has a very high unemployment rate, said Barnes, and a high drop-out rate. "Our goal is to help those individuals thatare high school dropouts and provide a brighter future for them," he said.
Barnes faced many difficulties with bringing the program together, citing obstacles such as a lack of classroom space, fiscal sponsorship, transportation for apprentices, financial support, volunteers, and more. Christian Life Assembly church in Willimantic provided the first line of support, with fiscal sponsorship, classroom space, volunteers and a vehicle to transport apprentices. "Later on, Eastern Connecticut State University provided us with classroom space and computers," said Barnes. In addition to the Ossen Foundation and Savings Institute grants, financial support has come from homeowners payingfor work performed on their homes.This "helps support our programs, and other low-income families that cannotafford to repair their homes themselves due to financial or physical limitations," said Barnes. Recently, Windham Public Schools provided free space to have a workshop for apprentices. An organization called Pro-bono Partnership was instrumental in educating Barnes regarding required tax forms, applications through the state and federal government, and paperwork for 501 c3 status, he said.
Barnes said that, having been down the same road as some of the individuals in the program, "I know how difficult it is to get a decent job without a diploma." The program, he said, "is available to change that tide of hopelessness into a life of something great.".
Neighborhood Renovations currently has four apprentices, "but we are recruiting an additional six apprentices for our upcoming school year, starting in late August 2015," said Barnes. The program provides a stipend, and graduates will obtain a G.E.D. and a vocational program certificate of completion. Instructional support is provided by volunteers and paid tutors from Eastern Connecticut State University. Tutors "are actually some of the brightest Eastern students on campus," said Barnes. Eastern professor Anthony Aidoo also volunteers his time tutoring apprentices in mathematics. Renovations has a five-member board, which includes two professors from Eastern. Participants spend part of the week in the classroom, and part gaining hands-on experience. Apprentices learn construction skills in the workshop, or gain job site experience working on an actual construction site. In the workshop, students learn how to build birdhouses, picnic benches, spice racks, and more, which in return are sold to help support the organization.
Barnes collaborates with Habitat for Humanity, WAIM (Windham Area Interfaith Ministries), Perceptions and United Services."We have helped people in our communities with educational needs, and repaired dilapidated homes for low-income families that cannot afford it" said Barnes. "That's why our slogan is so fitting for our mission: Neighbors helping Neighbors'."
Barnes believes that broken neighborhoods can be rebuilt by caring people. "This, in turn, may help reduce crime and dilapidated homes," he said. Neighborhood Renovations and Training Program also aims to turn around the lives of apprentices. "Since one of our missions is to help rebuild homes for low-income families, our apprentices help within the neighborhood that they reside in, while gaining valuable hands-on skill training," said Barnes.
For more information, go to http://www.neighborhoodrenovations.org/