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Public housing residents learn tools of painting trade

April 13, 2009 |  4:02 pm

Carson Joseph said he had struggled to find steady work since being released from prison four years ago, and when he graduated from a new job training program last week he hoped it would finally give him “a step up on the ladder.”

Joseph, 29, was among 22 residents from Nickerson Gardens and other public housing developments who graduated Friday from the Sherwin-Williams Home Work Painter Training Program.

The two-week program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is funded primarily by Sherwin-Williams, Los Angeles housing officials said. It focuses on teaching students about asbestos, mold and lead-based paint and gives them materials and real-world experience painting units in their own housing projects.

“There’s more to just putting paint on the brush and then putting it on the wall,” Joseph said.

The program has been in existence since about 2003, but the housing authority of the city of Los Angeles brought the series to Southern California last year. Housing officials said that so far 91 people had been trained during sessions at Jordan Downs, Estrada Courts, Mar Vista Gardens and Nickerson Gardens.

The two remaining sites for this year’s programs are in Rancho San Pedro and Ramona Gardens.

“I was looking for something long-term,” Joseph said about why he joined the training program.

He hopes it will give him a better shot at getting a painting apprenticeship with the housing authority and a city job with better pay and benefits. Joseph, who now lives in Gonzaque Village in Watts with his wife and five children, said he grew up in South Los Angeles, graduated from Locke High School and took a couple of classes at West Los Angeles College before finding work at a technology company.

He said he was convicted of felony drug possession and served about 17 months in prison before his release four years ago. Since then he said he had worked for a series of temp agencies, earning minimum wage loading and unloading items, such as engines, clothing, latches and locks.

His said his longest stretch of employment was 11 months but a month after finally getting a 50-cent raise, he was let go. When an advertisement for the training program arrived in his mailbox in early March, Joseph said, his wife encouraged him to apply.

“I was all for it,” Joseph said. “I thought it’d be a great opportunity for me.”

He’s not sure whether it will lead directly to employment but said he is confident that the training will help. Bob Ballew, who works for Sherwin-Williams running the training courses, said 72% of the roughly 5,000 graduates of the program across the nation have found employment.

“In spite of all the negative, this is something positive,” Ballew told the graduates Friday. “Even though the economy is bad, we hear the doom and gloom, there is still an opportunity to find employment.”

-- Ari B. Bloomekatz