Nonprofit teaches construction trades to at-risk youths in Ohio’s capital

Contractor Linus Onyeneho instructs Quinton Mayle, 17, on using a nail gun inside a house on Chicago Avenue in Franklinton, Ohio. A nonprofit called Franklinton Rising is trying to help young people gain job experience while rehabbing houses.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In his No. 1 dream, Quinton Mayle makes it big with his music. “I want to be at the Grand Ole Opry,” the Franklinton teen said, grinning shyly.

But Mayle knows how stingy life can be about guarantees. He has a backup plan, too, and it feels sound.

“I’m 17 years old and I’m already working,” Mayle said as he fended off the chill inside the hollowed-out duplex he is helping to renovate. “By the time I’m 23, I can own one of these.”

Mayle is learning construction trades through Franklinton Rising, a new, faith-based nonprofit organization that teaches life and job skills to at-risk youths in the gritty neighborhood west of Downtown.

The charity buys abandoned houses, raises money to renovate them and offers a mix of classroom and on-the-job training with experienced construction workers.

Mayle and other trainees are paid for their labor on the houses but not for their time in the classroom — that’s the personal improvement and investment part, organizers say.

After the youths complete the program, Franklinton Rising aims to help the graduates obtain full-time employment or an apprenticeship.

“Most of our trainees are in high school and not going to college,” said Tom Heffner, who heads the effort. “But in the building trades, there’s tremendous opportunity.”

Young adults who move through the program and land jobs also would have a chance to rent or even buy one of the rehabbed homes, he said.

Franklinton Rising has so far acquired four dilapidated properties and is still working with its first class of trainees. Six started in July; five have stuck with it.

Considering the challenges that the youths face — poverty, neighborhood crime, incarcerated parents — Heffner is both touched and impressed by their dedication.

Franklinton is the city’s oldest community, and, along many streets, its most impoverished.

Mayle understands that Heffner’s vision goes beyond houses.

“He tells us how life is,” Mayle said. “He’s trying to build us into a better person.”

Fred Brothers, a Franklinton Rising board member, said supporters want to lift up the youths and the area. Such approaches avoid the pitfalls of gentrification, “where you can wind up just moving poor residents somewhere else,” he said.

Franklinton Rising “is about people,” Brothers said. “This is not about people from the suburbs coming in and making money off these houses.”

He and Heffner said interest is high, with some families inquiring about future spots for their younger children. The hardest part is raising money for the renovation projects.

Although some businesses have been generous with donations of materials, “We’re still feverishly seeking funding,” Heffner said. “For the first few years, we will almost certainly have invested more than we’ve gotten out of it.”

The work isn’t easy, Mayle said, especially in the cold. The temperature hadn’t climbed past the teens when he arrived after school on a Tuesday, and there’s not yet heat, or even windows, in the century-old house.

He and his 16-year-old cousin, trainee Andrew Cain, felt a little numb.

Still, Mayle said, “I like this work. It makes me happy.”

He wants to soak up all the knowledge he can. And he’s proud that, after learning of the opportunity, “I took it.”