By Kaity Coisman
GREEN BAY – The Bridges Construction & Renovation Program works with high school juniors and seniors to prepare them for a future in the construction and renovation industry.
During the 2022-23 school year, 18 students in the Bridges Program came from schools all over the Green Bay area including Green Bay East, John Dewey Academy of Learning, Preble and Green Bay West.
The students are led by instructor Brian Frerk and an advising committee, which allows the students to get as much out of the program as possible.
“I expose them to as many different pathways as I can and then you know, hopefully, they can find something… It’s great because construction is so big,” said Frerk.
The program exposes the students to as many varieties of the construction business as possible during the school year, but the program is not just about the tricks of trade.-
One of the students in the program, Isaac Wery, said his favorite part about the program is, “just bonding with everybody.”
While Wery only knew one other person from his program when the school year began, he said he now has a group of friends from it that hang out after class.
The group arrives at the house around 7:30 a.m. to work for two-to-three-hours and then spends the rest of the school day in classes.
The program also exposes the students to some values to take into the workforce.
“I always come into it at the beginning of the year and tell them they need to learn three things: show up every day on time, work a full day’s work for a full day’s pay and be respectful. That’ll put you ahead of 95% of your classmates, that’s all the employers care about at this time. They’re not expecting anybody to come in with skills, all the rest of the skills I teach them are a bonus,” Frerk said.
The program works with multiple partners to ensure the students and instructors have access to everything they need during the year and provides the students with opportunities after the program has concluded.
These include Green Bay Area Public School District, Greater Green Bay Habitat for Humanity, Brown County Home Builders Association, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and NeighborWorks Green Bay.
This was the 14th house the program has completed in the Green Bay area.
Bridges Construction & Restoration Advisory Team Member Cheri Galecke said, “We come in every year and work with them on just helping them understand what it looks like when you get into the world of work, and what are their expectations.
“From an employer standpoint — needing skilled labor so much — to see all of them be so excited about it is great. It’s very rewarding as an employer to look and go, ‘Wow, they really enjoy it.’
“And some of them might not all end up in construction, and that’s okay. It’s how much the program is really helping them learn and really just become responsible adults.”
Galecke said that three current employees of DeLeers Construction & Bridges are from the Bridges Construction & Restoration program.
“I’ve got kids that went through architecture school after doing this; I’ve got a kid that wants to be a heavy equipment operator, he wants to be a crane operator; I’ve got plumbers; I’ve got electricians; I’ve got framers; I’ve got flooring guys; I’ve got a guy working in cabinets and I’ve got them all over the place and not just framing,” said Frerk.
Through the program, students work with professional contractors to learn about structural design, building safety, blueprint reading, construction, design and home improvements, and can also explore carpentry, masonry, home wiring, plumbing and architectural design.
For more information, visit https://bridges.gbaps.org.