Building Trades Volunteers Rehab Homes for People in Need

400 laborers provide free fix-ups for Jersey City homeowners, housing for homeless vets

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An abandoned building on Ocean Avenue in Jersey City is about to see new life as an apartment complex for eight homeless veterans and a recruiting center for the next generation of building trades workers, thanks to the efforts of several hundred Hudson County building trades union volunteers.

More than 400 plumbers, electricians, painters, carpenters, masons, laborers and other volunteers from at least eight unions fanned out across Jersey City on Saturday to tackle the 14 construction, rehabilitation and preservation projects that make up this year’s “Rebuilding Together Jersey City” agenda.

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Rebuilding Together is a national organization whose mission is to preserve homes and revitalize communities, assuring that low-income homeowners, from the elderly and disabled to families with children, can continue to live independently, in warm, safe residences. Saturday’s projects included rehabbing three kitchens and building a walk-in shower and ramp for a homeowner who suffers from multiple sclerosis.

Eric Boyce, business manager for UA Plumbers 24, is among the original volunteers, going back 25 years to when the program was called “Christmas in April.” Over that time, more than $2.9 million worth of improvements have been made to 313 properties in Jersey City. All the labor is donated, much of it by the building trades unions, with assistance from local colleges, churches, nonprofits and corporate sponsors. Patrick Kelleher, president of the Hudson County Building Trades Council, is among the organizers.

“To have all of that labor donated is huge. We are very fortunate,” said Joan Parzel, executive director of the Jersey City group. Building trades volunteers in Essex and Bergen counties perform similar acts of kindness in their communities.

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The blighted building on Ocean Avenue is one of this year’s big projects. When completed, the building’s second floor will contain eight apartments that will give now-homeless vets a place to call home. The first floor will be a center that will recruit and mentor the next generation of building trades young men and women.

The energy and enthusiasm on display on Saturday was heartwarming, and the turnout was overwhelming. This is what community building looks like when the labor movement comes together and gets involved!

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