Cleveland program allows people to trade a gun for free job training with no questions asked

CLEVELAND - The “Building Futures” program in the historic Union-Miles neighborhood on Cleveland’s east side is unique, innovative and already changing lives.

The program consists of six months of free hands-on job training, teaching skills like plumbing, electrical, carpentry, and construction. It also includes six weeks of “soft-skills” training like interview skills and resume work.

The next round will allow people to trade in an unloaded gun for the free job training, no questions asked.

Wilson Jones is the program’s trainer. He said all of the men have had hiccups in their pasts.

“You make errors in life and there’s no one to give you something and say ‘OK, you made a mistake, let’s correct that mistake,'" Jones said. "It’s that some people say, ‘Well you made this mistake and you’re always going to be a mistake,' but no, we here to give hope.'” 

The pilot program began in September 2017 with ten students. Seven of them made it through the six-month program and graduated.

The vacant home they rehabbed on E. 100th St. now has a family living in it. All seven men, ranging in age from 23 to 62, now have steady jobs.

One of those men — Terrence Barnes — was released from prison after 14 years in April 2017.

“I’m very proud of myself, yes, I am,” Barnes said, smiling. “It’s a life-changing experience because these are skills that you can carry for the rest of your life.”

Barnes landed a job soon after he graduated the program — but just a few weeks later, he was shot eight times in a random drive-by shooting as he walked to his Cleveland home.

Eight bullet wounds — four in each leg — show how hard life can be no matter how hard you try. Barnes was in a wheelchair for weeks and now walks with a brace.

But for Barnes, it has only made him stronger.

“I look at the positiveness. Nobody can stop me but me,” Barnes said. “So if I can take that many bullets and still stay alive, that’s something to be proud of, be positive about.”

Barnes made such a good impression in his few weeks at his new job that he said his employer is holding his job for him while he heals.

The Union-Miles Development Corporation is partnering with Cleveland Police and will accept an unloaded gun in exchange for the training. 

The next Building Futures class starts on Sept. 6, and this time, it will accept 15 students. The class will begin interviewing for prospective students on Monday, Aug. 6. The students train four days a week, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Classes are open to anyone over age 18.

The Union-Miles Development Corporation program is funded through various grants from DollarBank, CareSource, Chemical Bank and Cleveland Neighborhood Progress.

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