Positively Chicago: Church Program Connects People To Well-Paying Jobs

CHICAGO (CBS) – Unemployment on Chicago’s West and South Sides is much higher than the national average, but one church is trying to put a dent in that number.

CBS 2’s Jim Williams first told us about this two years ago, and now he has an update on how the church is helping young people get well-paying union jobs.

At a construction site for one of a wave of new buildings changing the South Loop’s skyline, 31-year-old Maurice Harris is at work.

“I’m a plumber for Local 130,” Harris said.

CBS: You’re a plumber, so you learned plumbing in this program?

“Yes,” Harris said.

A program CBS 2 first saw two years ago at St. Paul Church on South Wabash connecting inner city young men and women to the trade unions.

“It’s 186 that we put in the skilled crafts. 186. They’ve gone on to be heat-frost insulators, electricians, plumbers, they’ve gone to be riggers. Iron workers,” said Elder Kevin Anthony Ford.

Maurice Harris is one of the 186 – first attending a job expo at the church, then taking classes to prepare for an apprenticeship in plumbing. Before then, he said his life was in the streets.

CBS: Can you describe what was happening in the streets?

“Horrible things. What we call ungodly things,” Harris said.

CBS: You were?

“Yep,” Harris said.

CBS: You wanted a different life?

“I sure did,” Harris said. “Different life for me. Different life for my kids.”

Harris has four kids and a fiancé. Today he is supporting them with hard work.

“At the end of the day, I know I worked for what I’m getting, so I’m proud of it,” Harris said.

CBS: How would you grade his performance so far?

“Well I do have to grade his performance for local 130 and I’d give him an A plus right now,” said Kevin Lindwall, plumbing superintendent.

CBS: A plus?

“Yep,” Lindwall said.

“This day and this current time, I’ve watched the unions open their doors across the board,” Ford said.

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Harris said. “I can’t explain it.”

The church said Maurice Harris rode his bike 20 miles a day to take classes that would prepare him for a career in plumbing. St. Paul’s next job expo is Thursday, Aug. 24. A lot of trade unions are expected to be there and the one thing they emphasize is they will teach people how to do these jobs.

Watch & Listen LIVE