Construction Management Program Provides a New Lease on Life
Kelvin Pilgrim left 13-years of incarceration with a better idea about how he wanted to live his life, what was most important and how he might be a better influence on others – especially his 9-year-old daughter, Dijahnay. As a certified journeyman carpenter, he had worked around construction for 11-years, but he was ready to set his sights on the next higher level: Construction Management. At 60-years old, he was ready for change.
One after the other, doors started opening up for Kelvin. And he didn’t hesitate to walk through them.
What were some of the first doors to open?
The City of Los Angeles was required to help individuals affected by a (specific) lawsuit and would pay toward career training or help those individuals with business start-up costs. I knew education was the best option for me.
There was also a program called We Build and after I went through that training and showed my instructors that I could learn and was a dedicated worker, they used their connections to get me a job. That opened up another door for me. Education. I could go to school online and work full-time to support my daughter and me.
Why choose a career in Construction Management?
As a carpenter, construction management was a trade I was already familiar with. It had job stability, managerial options, and I wouldn’t have to carry around a 40 lb. tool bag. My sister-in-law has been in construction management for about a dozen years and makes a really good living.
It was an opportunity that presented itself, so I jumped on it.
How did you choose SJVC for this important career change?
SJVC was the first one I saw that offered Construction Management online. That’s what I had to have to accomplish my goals. And I can earn my Associate of Science degree (in as few as) 14 months.
I was working full-time and fighting for full custody of my daughter, but when this online Construction Management program opportunity presented itself, I had to step up to the plate and make both of these things happen. Full-time parent and student.
What were your Construction Management classes like?
The courses were like putting puzzle pieces together: what you would need to build something from the ground up. I was getting all the pieces I needed to know on the job from topics like scheduling, estimating material, construction management, plus math, ethics and even learning how to go about letting someone go. And learning the importance of watching and controlling a budget; a Project Manager is more of a budget controller.
I didn’t expect there would be a General Psychology class. And algebra; I’d been out of school for 30-something years, but I got a decent grade and stayed on the Dean’s List.
What was your greatest struggle?
I got laid off twice while I was in school, but I made sure the bills were paid. I had financial worries, but I couldn’t let my daughter see that. All she knew was she had food on the table, clean clothes, got to school every day and day care was paid for.
I learned to better manage my time. I’d spend a couple of hours a night helping Dijahnay to do homework, then a couple of hours doing my own. It was a 3-hour commute to work and back, cooking dinner, cleaning, homework, then get ready for the next 16-hour day.
We had to cut some things out, like TV, but they were small sacrifices for a better ending.
Was self-discipline a big part of your success?
I got my work ethic from prison. If you sit around the prison yard, you’re going to find yourself in trouble. In prison I was a firefighter, landscaper, forklift operator; you name it, I’ve done it. I focused on being productive.
I didn’t have positive role models growing up. I got into gangs and finally got to the point of enough-is-enough. I had to make a change in my life. People saw that and helped me make that happen.
Was the hardship worth it?
I was setting a role model for my daughter to have a better future. I told her, ‘This is what you have to do to have a better life.’ If she doesn’t see it in front of her, how will she know what it looks like to be successful?
I was on the Dean’s List throughout the whole (Construction Management) program and by the end of the school year, she was on the Honor Roll. She notices that I’m there now to watch a movie, play some board games; set aside time just for her.
Why was this career move so important to you?
I want my daughter to have the confidence that she can do anything she puts her mind to. My other two kids are grown, and they know what I went through. My older daughter is kind of amazed at what I’ve accomplished.
I’ve already started a college fund for Dijahnay, and I just want to see her graduate someday. I want to make sure she’s ok in life. I want her to have the confidence that she can do anything she puts her mind to.
Where are you now in your career scope?
I got the stability I was looking for as an Assistant Superintendent for Wako Co., Inc. and because I now have a degree, there will be more opportunities ahead in the construction trade. I may want to jump another level to full superintendent or Project Manager.
Job opportunities are still coming my way, but I’m good where I’m at right now.
At some point I will evaluate what it would take to make that change – more education or more experience – and get on the path to make that happen.
What advice would you give others who are interested in your field?
Never settle for less. There’s more in life than struggling to make ends meet. There’s a wealth of information, knowledge, and skills out there for those willing to walk through those doors. Push to stretch yourself and see what opens up. There’s help along the way.
What is your vision for the future?
Every day I get up, I lace my boots and I keep pushing. I want to purchase a house. I want to tell my daughter I love her every day and want her to know that her Daddy’s got her back.
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