My cousin, Jose, told me how his life changed for the better because of a program called PennAssist. He spoke highly about this program and the many different trade careers it offered. Then he mentioned an orientation that was coming up very soon and that I should attend. I decided to go because I was tired of jumping job to job and having very little money to help my family.

Orientation day came and I was very nervous walking into a room filled with large and intimidating men. Mr. Walt talked about the program and told us how lucky we were to have this opportunity. If we weren’t ready to make a change in our lives and actually go through the struggle, then we’d never really understand what we truly could achieve.

My first job during Orientation was demo work, knocking down a house and cleaning the area to make it into a yard. This was very challenging for me waking up early and being strong mentally and physically but I understood this was something like a “Boot Camp” to see who would stay or go. Many times I thought to myself “I couldn’t do this. I can’t. I just can’t. I’m not strong enough”, but calling Jose to motivate me and push me helped a lot. Talking to another women like Ms. Kylee and Ms. Saege helped me loosen up. I couldn’t give up on myself I was half way there.

The next thing to do was to pick a trade that I wanted to pursue in my life. I’m proud to say that I am an apprentice for Local 14 (The Insulation Union). My first day on the job site was very challenging. Many people looked at me like I shouldn’t be there. Someone even asked if I was lost. I could understand why having a 5’2” young lady on a construction site would surprise some men. I felt they thought I wouldn’t do well but I showed them I could exceed expectations. Being in a classroom full of guys helped me a lot. They taught me how to stand up for myself and not to get stepped on at the job site. I’ve learned a lot and I’m still learning as I go. I’m very grateful for the many people that helped me get to where I’m at today.

I thank God every day that I could now help my family financially. Thank you so much Mr. Walt for putting up with me and my craziness. Thanks to my fellow PennAssist brothers for welcoming me with open arms, always having my back and helping me push myself to the limit. Thank you, Ms. Kylee, for being there for me throughout this journey and guiding me on the right path. Thanks, Ms. Saege. I don’t know where I’d be without your help and loving personality. Last but not least, to my current and future PennAssist graduates, know that you have the potential to strive and get what you want in life. You just need to trust the process!


Going into the PennAssist Program I was a little skeptical to be honest. I’ve never heard of a minority program that gets you a job in the trades after a few weeks. During the first day of the program I met Walt McGill aka Uncle Walt. He was an electrician for many years and is now helping young minority kids get jobs in the trades. I also met all the students in the program who I would see everyday for the next few weeks. As the day went on Uncle Walt explained to us that we would be seeing multiple presentations about different trades. Each trade would be different from the other but all would all pay well. He also explained that we would be paired with a classmate as each other’s “Accountability Buddy” and would have to keep in contact with each other as well as hold each other accountable. This Buddy would be able to assist you with class work especially during the days we weren’t in class. I was paired with Esaias Gimenez and we worked on fixing up homes for the elderly during the Orientation. During the days we were working I learned a lot, such as taking up floors and laying down new ones. I also learned that you need good time management skills in order to get done the assigned projects for the day.

During the days we were in the classroom we had scheduled trade presentations and life skills training. Some of the trades that I can recall were Ironworkers, Sheet Metal Workers, Plumbers, and Carpenters. All great trades and all paid well. The trade that caught my attention the most was the Stagehands. A Stagehand mainly works at concerts and venues to set up the stage and the lights and whatever else needs to be done in order to make sure the show runs smoothly. The presenter made it sound like it was more of a part time job but I decide to take a chance with it. During the past couple months I’ve been doing jobs at venues like the Wells Fargo Center, Lincoln Financial Field and other locations. The trade itself has its ups and downs, for example, your days are never repetitive because you do something different each day. A downside to the trade is the work isn’t consistent during the winter season but I knew that before I made my decision.

Overall the PennAssist Program is a life changing program if you stay focused and put your all into it. I met a lot of great people during the program and I couldn’t ask for a better class. We all had each others backs and made sure we all were on point. Getting fed during lunch was also a plus. I wish the best of luck to the future classes and hopefully they’ll find this program as beneficial as I did.


My experience with PennAssist is an experience I will never forget. I will always remember this amazing group of people in my corner, working diligently behind the curtains giving me and my classmates the support and tools we need to not just succeed but excel. The PennAssist Program gave me new hope for my future. It gave me connections with the right people who are very genuine. Furthermore, it has blessed me with a wonderful career as a Sheet Metal Worker.

Programs like PennAssist doesn’t come around often. I’m just very thankful and grateful that I didn’t miss this great opportunity. Coming from doing janitorial work and housekeeping and only making $11 per hour really put things in perspective. I was fortunate enough to go straight into my trade with full benefits as a first year apprentice with a really nice pay raise. Things like this are not heard of. Yet, this is my story and I’m just so happy living and cherishing every moment as I build on this foundation for many years to come.


My name is Michael Chism and I am a member of the PennAssist class of 2018. I found out about the program through my previous employer, Snider Hockey. After hearing about PennAssist and the opportunities they offered, I immediately was interested in the opportunity to work in the building trades.

I started PennAssist in September of 2018 and from first glance with the teachers and mentors at PennAssist, I knew that this was about to be a life-changing opportunity for me and my family. The curriculum PennAssist presented on the first day was very detailed. They explained what the program sought out of its participants. PennAssist required sacrifice. They required for us to quit our job in return for placement with a union job, so the sacrifice was well worth it!

The staff at PennAssist are awesome, they spend countless hours assessing students at PennAssist to ensure the trade we selected will match our skill level and personality. The instructors are knowledgeable about current math and reading comprehension to prepare us for the apprentice exam. The class culture feels like family. I felt welcomed and wanted amongst my peers and PennAssist staff members.

The trade I was selected was Elevator Construction. I was hired through Local 5 who helped me land a job with ThyssenKrupp Elevator. I did not know anything about elevators, but PennAssist provided information to me so I could gain an understanding of what to expect. The duration of getting placed into my trade only took a month after starting PennAssist in September. I have been a member of Local 5 for 4 months now as a first-year apprentice. PennAssist staff stayed true and followed through with their word and promise.

This opportunity was golden and I’m grateful I took a leap of faith and trusted the staff at PennAssist.