MAYS LANDING - A state program that provides grants to weatherize and upgrade homes is also funding a project to train people to do the work.

The Weatherization Workforce Initiative's goal is to train 600 people in the skills they need to get jobs with contractors approved by the state to do residential weatherization projects. The program targets residents in the most distressed areas, including Atlantic and Cumberland counties.

A group of 18 students is completing the first 10-week program held at the Atlantic County Institute of Technology. For the first five weeks the ACIT staff worked with them to review math and reading skills. For the last five weeks they built walls and installed windows, doors and insulation. They will graduate next week.

Former Marine and Iraq war veteran Everett Easton, 27, of Pleasantville, is also taking online classes in criminal justice at the University of Phoenix. He said he'd like to get into law enforcement, but having the weatherization training will give him the skills to get another job, and work on his own home.

"It makes me more marketable," he said. "They really showed us how to do it right."

The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs received $118.8 million from the federal stimulus fund for weatherization projects, with $22.8 million allocated for training and technical assistance. The New Jersey Building Laborers Training and Apprenticeship Fund got a $2.8 million grant to run training programs in a partnership with the Department of Labor, the state's vocational schools, the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey, and the Laborers International Union of North America Local 55.

Applicants must have a high school diploma or GED, be drug free, have a valid driver's license and live in a distressed neighborhood.

Johanna Johnson, curriculum coordinator at ACIT, said the first five weeks were spent reviewing math and reading skills and also instilling life skills such as the need to be on time every day, and how to prepare for and handle a job interview.

"They had to attend, or they would get kicked out," she said. Five students did leave the program, but the 18 who remained will get several industry certifications in weatherization technology, scaffold building, lead removal and occupational safety they can use to apply for jobs that could pay $17 per hour.

"We were very strict with them," said instructor Scott Glien of the Laborers Union. "But there are some great workers here."

Jeremy Jacobs, 23, of Atlantic City, said his father is a carpenter, and his aunt pushed him to sign up for the program.

"I learned a lot quickly," he said. "This was something I was interested in, and I really got into it. It felt like second nature."

There are five women in the class. Stephanie Wellman, 36, of Atlantic City, has worked at the Tropicana for 11 years, but wants to learn a new skill.

"You never know what's going to happen (in the casino industry)," she said. "This is all new to me, but it's fun. I liked using the tools."

Evelyn Byrd, 28, of Atlantic Cit,y said the free program was just too good an opportunity to pass up. Her friend Shonta Deming, 35, of Atlantic City, signed up with her.

"I like to build things," Deming said. "The best part was framing and putting in doors and windows."

"It was like learning to build a house," said Tyrone Farmer, 32, of Atlantic City. He and a friend run a cleaning service, but Farmer would also like some new job opportunities.

A second training class is being developed in Atlantic County, and one is also being held at the Cumberland County Technical Education Center.

Tonya Reaves, 34, of Brigantine, said she learned a lot and just hopes there will be jobs for them when they're done. The women started joking about forming their own companies to do weatherization work, but then wondered whether that might even be an option.

"This is right up my alley," said Jamie Miller, 29, of Pleasantville. "I really like doing this."

Donald Howard, training director for the NJ Building Laborers Training and Apprenticeship Fund, said jobs are the next step. He said contractors who do the state-funded weatherization work must now be prequalified, pay prevailing wages and benefits, and hire half of their new employees from the training program.

Three local agencies, Tri-County Community Action Partnership in Bridgeton, Ocean Inc. in Toms River and Cape Human Resources in Wildwood, manage weatherization programs in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean counties. Howard said they will be working with the agencies and private contractors to try to place the graduates.

"We don't want to just train them," he said. "We haven't done our job until everyone's working."

Contact Diane D'Amico:

609-272-7241

Home weatherization

The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Weatherization Assistance Program provides income-qualified residents with services that reduce household energy use and costs by improving the energy efficiency of their homes while ensuring their health and safety. The program contracts with a network of community based organizations that deliver weatherization throughout the State. In southern New Jesrey those organizations are Tri-County Community Action Partnership in Bridgeton, Ocean Inc. in Toms River and Cape Human Resources in Wildwood.

For more information on the Weatherization Assistance Program call the Energy Assistance Unit at 800-510-3102 or go to:

http://www.state.nj.us/recovery/programs/wap.html">www.state.nj.us/recovery/programs/wap.html