Uncommon Construction

Desmond Campbell is not a small businessman, but he will be. Desmond is 19 and plans to enter the construction industry after graduating from International High School. Then, he says, he’ll begin saving money to start his own construction company.

This past Saturday in the St. Roch neighborhood, local youth development nonprofit, unCommon Construction (uCC) celebrated the achievements of its 2017-2018 class of apprentices. Campbell has been a participant in this program for seven semesters and helped build several houses. The last one sold for $200,000.

“I love seeing the progress and doing the hard work,” he says. “This programs builds strength.”

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In 2005, Aaron Frumin, uCC founder and executive director, responded to Hurricane Katrina with the Red Cross. Later that year he took his first job in construction as a day laborer. Since then, Frumin has served as a construction supervisor with Habitat for Humanity, was a participant with AmeriCorps, graduated from Tulane, and taught for Teach for America. Then in 2015 he started uCC.

“Schools need to offer more real world opportunities and the industry needs workers with the skills to succeed,” he says.

Through the uCC Apprentice Program, students are selected through an application process from five public high schools in New Orleans. Apprentices learn to build one house each semester in the local community, earning hourly pay, school credit and Equity Award Scholarships from the sale of the house.

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“There are so many intangible ways the apprentices grow throughout the year,” says Frumin. “This is even more important than the statistics. We provide a platform for youth to build more confidence and become self-reliant. This is a big part of what unCommon is trying to accomplish. We want to make sure [students] are prepared to succeed once they leave high school. Our model shows that uCC alumni are reliable, hardworking leaders in the workplace and the community.” 

Since uCC’s founding, the organization has hired more than 60 high school students in its apprenticeship program. Collectively, the organization has earned more than $80,000 in net pay and equity awards.

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Matt Moore, president of Gibbs Construction Company, and Lauren Gibbs, vice president, were at the celebration smiling and shaking hands.  The company is a devoted partner in this endeavor.

“There are a lot of talented and hungry kids here who want to be builders,” says Moore.

“Working with unCommon aligns with our core values and gives us an opportunity to give back to community,” says Gibbs.

The students earn above minimum wage. And it needs to be pointed out that in an industry that employs very few women, this program is made up of 32 percent young women. Also, 71 percent of graduates are currently pursuing industry-aligned careers.

As she showed me through the home, Meagen Moreland-Taliancich, communications strategist with Gambel Communications said, “I love this project. What I like most is that throughout the house on the studs, the floor joists, everywhere, the kids have written words of encouragement and their hopes for the future.”



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