Red Brick Arches, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from jschneid’s photostream

Steve Shelton owns a construction company in Pittsburgh. When he thought back on how he learned masonry, he realized that there was a lack of people coming up through the trades, nor were they learning trade skills in high school, and more trade schools were closing than opening. Seeing a need, he started the Shelton Trade Center in Wilkinsburg three years ago. Students attend eight hours a day; five days a week; for a total of ten weeks. They work with experts and learn the tricks of the trade. Their tuition is free and the Center does its best to find them employment. But, Shelton soon saw that he was doing much more than creating trained professionals with a much sought after skill for an industry — he was transforming lives.

Most of the men and women who come to the Center have spent time in either prison, juvenile centers, or rehab facilities. Most grew up without a father. The Center gives their students more than just trade skills — it also offers them life skills. The Center and Hosanna House (which donated the space) also helps the students navigate things like getting a GED, opening a checking account and obtaining a drivers license. It provides many with their first legitimate work experience (they even utilize Port-O-Potty’s to recreate real job conditions). In a piece on the Center done by WQED’s Pittsburgh 360°, they recount one of Shelton’s most memorable students. He was 31 years old when he graduated from the Center and Shelton hired him for his own company. When Shelton handed him his first paycheck from his new job, it turned out that it was his first paycheck ever — he had never held a legitimate, legal job in his life.

The Shelton Trade Center currently mentors about nine people at a time. Steve Shelton would like to both expand the number of students and the number of trades that they teach. First, opening the school up to all of the trowel trades — concrete, plastering, and tile setting — and eventually adding other trades such as welding, plumbing, HVAC, metal smithing and carpentry. Councilman Bill Peduto met Steve through his son on Twitter. After seeing all that the Shelton Trade Center has to offer, he’s committed to finding them the space they need to succeed in the city of Pittsburgh.

You can learn more about Shelton Trade Center from the following short documentary and they welcome the involvement of employers, financiers and youth programs.