20 Dec 2021
When Darrell LaFrance was released from the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) for the third time, he vowed it would be his last.
While he was locked inside, his daughter was born on the outside.
“I missed the first year of her life. That changed me. That changed my whole outlook on life. I wasn’t living anymore for myself. I had someone who depended on me. I knew I had to do better,” he said.
He certainly has. LaFrance, 34, went from hustling on the streets to building a career in carpentry. He recently received the 2021 Building Futures’ Alumni Leadership Award, presented annually to the Building Futures graduate who demonstrates exemplary leadership skills within the building trades and in their community.
“Building Futures helped me find my direction. Without it, I’d still be running the streets,” said LaFrance. “Building Futures changed my life.”
Based in Providence, Building Futures offers a pre-apprenticeship program in the building and construction trades. Since the program was established in 2007, more than 350 apprentices have been placed in good-paying jobs throughout Rhode Island.
LaFrance is one of them.
It wasn’t easy. Although he vowed to do better when he was released from prison, he lacked experience and direction. He soon found himself working the only job he ever knew.
“I was back on the streets,” said LaFrance, who grew up in South Providence. “I had a mouth to feed, so I did what I knew best. I went to the streets, and I just kept going back to the drawing board. I knew I couldn’t live that life forever. I saw guys in prison that missed their kid’s entire life. What am I going to do?”
He turned to his friends, several of whom had gone through the Building Futures and encouraged LaFrance to enroll in the program.
“My friends pushed me and told me Building Futures has your back and gives you support. It’s not false hope like so many other programs,” he said.
So, LaFrance gave Building Futures a shot.
“I didn’t have any skills, but I am a quick learner and good with my hands,” said LaFrance, who took an immediate liking to carpentry. “The program gives you the tools you need to enter the trade and get started. And they give you the support you need. (The staff) is awesome. The people push you to do better and WANT you to do better. They are there for you and even check up on you to make sure you are okay and have what you need.”
Building Futures gave LaFrance the guidance and encouragement he needed to turn his life around.
“For too long the power to earn family-sustaining wages in a meaningful and rewarding career has been predominantly available to people who can afford exclusive post-secondary education, and that has left too many BIPOC Rhode Islanders out,” said Andrew Cortés, Building Futures executive director and Papitto Opportunity Connection advisory board member. “Registered Apprenticeship is post-secondary education—and unlike a university degree, it is an earn-while-you-learn opportunity with guaranteed career advancement. Whether we are supporting the graduates of our pre-apprenticeship training in launching lucrative careers in building and construction, or we are working with private employers to design and register apprenticeship programs that can exceed diversity, equity, and inclusion recruitment and retention goals, we are creating opportunities that transform lives and communities.”
Creating opportunities for better lives
“Building Futures helps you get to where you want to be and build a trade,” said LaFrance. “I love this program. Building Futures creates opportunity so you can have a better life.”
Soon after graduating from Building Futures, LaFrance was accepted into the Carpenters Apprenticeship Program with the Carpenters Union Local 330 and is now working with Sweeney Drywall at Brown University’s Performing Arts Center.
“My hard work is paying off,” he said. “It’s showing that I’m really out here doing what I got to do. It’s not hard, if you want to change you just have to be determined and want it.”
He takes pride in the fact that he is a role model for his daughter, who is now 10.
“The older she gets the more impressionable she is,” said LaFrance. “I could only hide what I was doing for so long. Let me show her the real example of what you’re supposed to do. I am showing her now.”
He encourages others who are looking to better their lives or searching for direction to enroll in Building Futures.
“Building Futures is the way to go. If you’re searching for direction, if you’re willing to give things a try and if you’re open-minded, this is the program for you,” said LaFrance. “I tell everyone I run across about Building Futures. My friends did that for me and changed my life, so it’s only right for me to do it for someone else now. If I can change somebody’s life, I will.”
Support from Papitto Opportunity Connection will help Building Futures enhance their programs and increase the support and guidance they offer to those seeking a career in the building trades.
“POC’s investment will significantly expand our work and is a remarkable commitment to creating and expanding economic opportunity in Rhode Island’s BIPOC communities,” said Cortés. “We are honored to join with other POC grantees since we know that no single organization or individual can single-handedly undo centuries of structural inequality. It is going to take the harnessed power of organizations and individuals working intentionally together, strengthening Building Futures’ efforts in concert with POC’s powerful strategy to collectively move towards justice. “