A unique construction school created by Greek-Americans is changing peoples’ lives by providing new skills to unemployed and disadvantaged youth.
The brainchild of John Kalafatis, a Greek-American entrepreneur who owns several companies in New York City, the non-profit educational organization named Andromeda Community Initiative, offers tuition-free courses in construction skills and all the necessary certifications needed to work in the booming construction industry of the US.
Kalafatis, who is currently assuming all costs, says that the school is on a pace to have approximately 150 graduates on an annual basis and he is looking to find ways to increase this number.
The program could expand and help way more people, “but the public and the private sector would have to step up for this important cause,” notes Kalafatis.
”People who come without skills on the subject; they get all the necessary tools to get a job, and start a new career.”
The students come from really diverse backgrounds. Most of them are people from disadvantaged neighborhoods, who were looking for a second chance in life.
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Construction school as a new opportunity
Some were in jail, others were homeless, and others were simply desperate for a career change. All of them found a new professional horizon.
People like Eze Kumarti Sr. who is now trying to rebuild his life after spending 11 years of his life in jail. “This program is like a starting step for me,” he tells Greek Reporter.
Francis Justy, now an assistant instructor, says he came from welfare. “The program changed my life. Totally.”
The Andromeda Community Initiative is a not-for-profit educational organization that focuses on building restoration, a subset of the construction industry. According to the latest statistics, this field of NYC’s economy is worth approximately $1.5 billion.
Among the students is Petal Foster, one of the few females that have decided to venture into the male-dominated construction world.
“Being a female in this industry maybe unheard of. However I was raised with 11 brothers, so I feel that whatever they do, I can do it better.”
Foster was a social worker by trade, but due to legal matters she had to abandon her profession. “It became hard to find a job as a social worker, but in the construction field people do not care so much about your background.”
“What they care about is whether you can do the work and whether you are qualified and certified. Hence, I am here.”
Christos Bassiouris, the Head Trainer of the ACI Construction School came from Greece and he tells Greek Reporter, how proud he is to be involved in this project:
”We try to change people’s lives.
“The only thing I gain personally is the satisfaction of giving a chance to these people for a better future. To help them stand on their feet.”
Safety top priority
Since construction jobs are very often precarious due to the nature of the profession, everyone there is focused on how to maximize safety above everything else.
As one of the students speaking to Greek Reporter said, ”being safe will allow you to remain alive, and also have your compadres alive as well on the site.”
What is unique about this school, is not only that it does not charge tuition fees to its students, but it also provides them with free meals on a daily basis.
At the end of the course, the school organizes a job fair where representatives of major construction companies interview the students and most are offered jobs.
Kalafatis’ American dream
Born on the Greek island of Lefkada, John Kalafatis knows how to transform lives as he had to transform his own first. He arrived in New York as a poor foreign student in his twenties, but through determination, imagination and hard work created one of the largest restoration companies in New York City.
Kalafatis began his successful and wide-ranging career by founding Skyline Restoration in 1989. The Greek-American entrepreneur soon built a sterling reputation in New York City that allowed him to create several other companies that offer services in the construction sector.
In 2017, Kalafatis broke new ground in his career, taking a huge leap into the unknown as he began the development of a one-hundred-million dollar movie studio in New York City.
Tapping into the Big Apple’s booming movie industry, he purchased the largest open lot available anywhere in the five boroughs of the City. The immense property at 1440 Story Avenue in the Bronx now houses York Studios, where Kalafatis also serves as CEO.