'Project Build' changes lives in Richmond

On Friday Richmond is marking  10 years of a training program that was started in the midst of a very violent year in hopes of creating a safer city.

KTVU's Gasia Mikaelian  went to Richmond this week - to see what kind of an impact that program has made.

Inside the building on Richmond's Southside young men and women from Richmond were swinging hammers and using saws.

It's a "peaceful place" compared to what was happening outside when the idea for Richmond build was born.

Ten years ago the homicide rate was soaring so high the city council considered declaring a State of Emergency.

Along with increased law enforcement, and community outreach efforts program director Fred Lucero said Richmond also took a different approach. "Nothing stops a bullet like a career... whether in the trades or elsewhere they have a bright future ahead of them"

And so for the past decade Richmond Build has been teaching men and women who live in the city of Richmond  the trades preparing them for jobs in construction and renewable energy.

About a third of all students are from low-income households, while a third have a history with law enforcement.

Nearly all of the students minorities. There have been more than 1,000 graduates.

Akeele Carter is one of them. She was the only female in her group when she graduated in 2007.

"I was a single mother - solely single - two small children who were relying on me financially, emotionally, physically."

She says the help she got through the program helped lift her spirits and her earnings. She was making $14 an hour during the program.

After graduating she started in the solar industry making $23 an hour, and it's gone up from there.

"Now I am the local hire coordinator for the modernization of Chevron's Richmond refinery. I'm doing pretty well for me and my children!"

Eddie Nunez turned to Richmond Build because he wanted to turn his life around. "I was selling drugs actually that was putting money in my pocket and on the table," he said.

He wanted to put five years of avoiding the law behind him.

"My focus was on everything straight instead of the wrong thing to do. This helped me, my family noticed it, everybody noticed it!"

He graduated in 2009. Now he's an instructor with the program, giving students the same tough love that helped him turn his life around.

"You have to come here every day on time, tuck your shirt in... if you want to make grown man money you have to do grown man things."

One of Richmond Build's darkest days came in 2013 when a group of students was out for a run taking an agility test when someone in an SUV pulled up and shot and killed 18-year-old student Dimarea Young and kept shooting even after he fell to the ground dead.

That loss serves as a reminder of what people in the program are trying to escape.

Joron Bell says he can't wait to graduate and get started on his American dream.

"House, two car garage, son playing football - the whole nine," he said.

Richmond Build graduates have helped build the new Target store, the Officer Bradley Moody Memorial underpass and Richmond City Hall. They're currently working on the Chevron Refinery's modernization project.

Ten years from now Bell hopes he can point out Richmond's future landmarks to his young son and say "I helped build that."

The word has gotten out about Richmond Build. It receives about 100 applications for 35 spots in each class.

The program runs 12 weeks and has an 80-percent placement rate with its graduates.