By Richard L. Gaw
Jacob Klatt had been a licensed Maryland contractor for several years, but when the downturn in the economy struck in 2008, his Christmas gift that year was a pink slip.
After his layoff, Klatt searched through the internet and the newspapers for work in his field, and after several months of frustration, he came across a Craigslist ad calling for a superintendent at Second Chance, a Baltimore-based program designed by the the city's Mayor's office that sends underprivileged young men to deconstruct homes throughout Baltimore's inner city and beyond, in an effort to salvage usable materials for resale.
Klatt had not only known about Second Chance; as a contractor, he had often visited there to pick up materials and supplies. He was soon hired, and four months later, was promoted to project manager, where he has overseen 100 deconstruction projects in the last six months.
Although most Second Chance projects are in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., work occasionally ventures outside of the inner city, and last week, a Second Chance crew of eight helped demolish a 600-square-foot cottage home and nearby work shed in a rural part of Landenberg. The project had been arranged through the property owner.
"They don't get a lot of opportunities to leave the inner cities," Klatt said. "They've never really been out of the city, so to give them the opportunity to be up in the country is quite a treat for them."
Through its Workforce Development training program, Second Chance places individuals in jobs designed to expand their skills and maturity, based on increasing skill levels, employability, and compensation potential. New hires don't just begin hammering away at walls and homes; each Second Chance employee receives 600 training hours of reconstruction work and hands-on field instruction in technical and life skills through professionals from well-respected organizations in the building and safety industries.
Midway through a balmy Chester County summer day, Klatt arrived on the site to see Tayvon Glenn, his crew leader, leading his team through the last stages of deconstruction. Over the course of seven days, several wood beams and other materials will be transported to the company's 200,000-square-foot retail warehouse, and be sold to the public.
Through deconstruction, architectural and structural elements are carefully removed and salvaged by Second Chance employees before a building is demolished. Historical items retain their useful and valuable properties, and even common materials find a second chance. Deconstruction materials, such as flooring and dimension lumber, are extracted, de-nailed, and cut into useful, sellable lengths. Whether they are used to save money or maintain the character of another time period, repurposed or historical elements are later used in new and repurposed living spaces. Second Chance expects to provide $375,000 worth of high-end merchandise to its customers this year.
"You get to realize the future possibilities of the items you deconstruct," said Second Chance team member Clarence White. "The job was so favorable for me, because it was an opportunity, and a chance to work with my hands. Both went so well together for me."
At the Landenberg deconstruction site, there were no towering machines run on massive amounts of gas. The only evidence of electricity being used was when White used an electric saw to slice away at what was once the shed's roof. Second Chance's deconstruction units are in keeping with ongoing green efforts being made in reconstruction.
In many ways, Klatt said, the name of the company that he, Glenn and the eight crew members work for is a perfect one. "Second Chance is unique, in that it gives not only repurposes old materials, it gives young men incredible chances," he said. "Getting these young men out in the workforce is very important insofar as developing the community, as well as preserving materials from some of our history," Klatt said. "One half doesn't know how the other half lives, but the fact is that many of these men don't have the same economic opportunities, they're often the product of divorce, and the schools they've attended are often underfunded. Through Second Chance, they get that second chance."
Graduates of the training program are guaranteed associate or supervisory-level positions within Second Chance's deconstruction units or retail warehouses. These jobs carry rewards of above-average wages and valuable intangibles, including a foundation upon which graduates can build meaningful careers.
Due in part to a screening process that ensures the most motivated and potentially successful individuals are selected, the program boasts a 98 percent graduation rate.
Glenn has been with Second Chance since 2009, and a supervisor for two years.
"Second Chance has a strong impact on people's lives that vary from individual to individual," he said. "Some just happen to be having a hard time finding a job, while others are trying to get out from the cloud of having a police record. Second Chance gives guys a second chance. They don't judge you, but they hire you and give you life skills, both on and off the job."