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Auberle Employment Institute helps at-risk youths build foundations for life

| Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, 11:51 a.m.
Lorenzo Steadman, 21, (right) and William Mitchell, 20, work in the cold rain and mud to clear a trail for the new Pittsburgh Botanic Garden near Oakdale on Friday, Jan. 11, 2013. The two men are students at Auberle's Employment Institute. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Lorenzo Steadman, 21, (left) grapples with a large dead tree limb, while William Mitchell, 20, removes a stump as the two work in the cold rain and mud to clear a trail for the new Pittsburgh Botanic Garden near Oakdale on Friday, Jan. 11, 2013. The two men are students at Auberle's Employment Institute. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Students designed and built a pond along with the surrounding landscape on their campus at Auberle in McKeesport, photographed Tuesday, January 22, 2013. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
William Mitchell, 20, (left) and Bill Lewis work in the cold rain and mud to remove stumps and clear a trail for the new Pittsburgh Botanic Garden near Oakdale on Friday, Jan. 11, 2013. Mitchell is a student at Auberle's Employment Institute, while Lewis is maintenance manager for Auberle. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
William Mitchell, 20, cuts down a stump as he works in the cold rain to clear a trail for the new Pittsburgh Botanic Garden near Oakdale on Friday, Jan. 11, 2013. Mitchell is a student at Auberle's Employment Institute. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review

Standing on a muddy, snow-covered service road in Collier that leads into the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden near Oakdale, Lorenzo Steadman said he enjoys getting outdoors and working.

“I like working with my hands,” said Steadman, 21, of the North Side. “I like to move around.”

Steadman and William Mitchell, 20, of the Hill District helped cut a path for a 10-foot-wide, two-mile trail for hiking and cross-country skiing at the garden, which is being developed on 460 acres of land, much of which was mined.

Their work is part of a McKeesport-based nonprofit's year-old Employment Institute, which partners with private companies to provide at-risk youth with job skills.

Auberle , a 61-year-old Catholic charity, created the institute about a year ago by pulling together several existing job-training programs. Those prepare Auberle's clients for jobs in areas such as landscaping, construction, food handling, computer graphics and design, and commercial driving.

Auberle also is starting new training programs under the institute's umbrella, said Rodney Prystash, Auberle's director of facilities and operations.

“We've been laying the foundation for the past few years,” he said.

The institute's age range for clients and its service area remain fluid because Auberle administrators want to help anyone who needs it, Prystash said.

Some clients are the teens and young adults who receive counseling and shelter at Auberle. Some find the training on their own.

“If a youth is interested, we're going to get him involved in the program,” Prystash said.

The employment institute will expand further in February as it teams with UPMC to provide training for hospital-related jobs, such as nursing assistants and maintenance workers.

There are 46 people enrolled in the institute.

Steadman said he was in a program run by another nonprofit to learn how to handle finances and pay bills when Prystash came in as a guest speaker. Steadman jumped at the chance to gain job skills and said he might make a career out of landscaping.

“I think I could go for it,” he said.

Mitchell said he was homeless and sought help from Auberle in July. He learned about the institute and applied for the landscaping training.

“I feel like I'm really working,” he said.

Prystash said the idea behind the programs is to teach specific job skills, such as tool safety, while teaching skills that apply to any job, such as working as a member of a team.

Besides off-site locations like the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, Auberle uses its 20-acre main campus to teach clients how to landscape. They worked with a professional designer to plan and install a pond and outdoor classroom on campus.

“They have fish in it. They have aquatic plants,” Prystash said. “They really researched it.”

More recently, Auberle partnered with Massaro Properties LLC of O'Hara to offer a landscaping program in the spring and summer at properties the company owns.

“The kids are interviewed as if they're applying for a job,” Prystash said. “They do everything from grass trimming to mulching to pruning.”

Another landscape company has agreed to hire three of Auberle's landscape graduates, Prystash said.

“This is my goal,” Prystash said. “That's what it's all about.”

David Massaro said his company hopes to expand the training opportunities it offers to Auberle clients.

“This year, we're going to try to go out to the marketplace and secure some additional accounts,” he said.

Students last year improved upon the work done by contractors, Massaro said.

Another training program now offered under the institute's umbrella is a 40-hour, hazardous waste operations course taught by Carnegie-based Weavertown Environmental Group.

Dawn Fuchs, president and CEO, said she was on Auberle's board for several years, so she readily agreed when it approached her about three years ago.

Given restrictions in handling hazardous waste, the course can't provide the same on-the-job training that Massaro does, Fuchs said, but it does prepare students to work in several environment-related fields, including the expanding oil and gas industry.

Like the landscaping program, the hazardous waste course emphasizes so-called “soft skills” that are important to businesses. Those include treating others with respect, communicating well and acting responsibly, Fuchs said.

“(Students) definitely have a skill set they can take with them, whether it's at Weavertown or another business,” she said.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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