After the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Del Mar College (DMC) was awarded a grant, funded by the Michael & Susan Dell and OneStar Foundations, for resources and training to rebuild homes that were lost. During this time, the demand for skilled carpentry workers became evident, leading to the Del Mar College Rebuild Texas Carpentry Skills Training Program. Now, DMC partners with the Nueces County Sheriff’s Office (NCSO) to train inmates via the Construction Skills Training program.
Upon hearing of a former inmate’s completion of the DMC Rebuild Texas Carpentry Skills Training Program after his release, Sheriff John C. Hooper reached out to Dr. Leonard Rivera, Dean of DMC Continuing Education and Off-Campus Programs, about a possible partnership to train inmates at the McKinzie Jail Annex as carpenters for the construction industry.
The NCSO and DMC entered a Memorandum of Understanding in May of 2022, and the first training cohort began later that month. Selected inmates are vetted by the Sheriff’s Office and must be current misdemeanor offenders, including those with current or pending misdemeanor assault charges and inmates with a prior conviction for a felony assault charge. Those not allowed to participate include inmates with a prior conviction for any type of felony aggravated charge; a current, pending or prior conviction for evading arrest charge, fleeing charge or escape charge; and inmates classified as in protective custody.
This program, numbering seven to eight participants, teaches students the basics of carpentry. For their final project, they build a miniature house from the ground up. Arnold Mendez, Program Manager and one of the instructors teaching at the McKinzie Jail Annex, explained: “The structure they build has all the components of a house. They learned how to do the flooring, decking, plywood, walls, ceiling and roofing.” These houses are then donated to the Boy Scouts and other non-profits.
Dr. Rivera believes in the quality and success of the program. “The inmates are good people,” he said. “They made mistakes, sure, but this program gives them the opportunity to turn their lives around for the better rather than return to a life of crime.” By completing this program, the students can earn entry-level carpentry jobs and then move up in rank as they hone their skills.
Even though grant funding for Rebuild Texas has ended, DMC continues to provide carpentry training. In fact, it has expanded the program to cover other trades in the construction industry and is building on the revised program to provide even more opportunities for inmates to join the workforce after release. The program has garnered so much attention that other counties are reaching out to Dr. Rivera for possible partnerships, and he hopes to see the program grow through this initiative. More skilled workers … and more hopeful futures.