November 15, 2019

“The youth are powerful. They can be successful if people let them be successful.”

Building a blueprint for the future of New Orleans students.

Construction industry professionals are aplenty in New Orleans, but the next generation may be thinning out when it comes to future jobs. Local public schools lack the resources necessary to offer students hands-on courses in carpentry or other trades. Aaron Frumin founded Uncommon Construction to meet the needs of these students.

“Career technical education programs work, and these programs work for diverse students,” Aaron says.

The absence of construction industry training programs for students in New Orleans inspired him to close that gap. Uncommon Construction forges connections between industry personnel and high school students in an integrated apprenticeship program.

Building Skills

Uncommon Construction partners with six local schools to provide hands-on training for pay, class credit, and scholarship funds. Students participate for a minimum of one semester in the fall, spring, or summer.

Apprentices work with industry partner Gibbs Construction on a home in the St. Roch neighborhood.

Each Saturday, the students build houses. Every other Saturday, they build alongside industry professionals giving them mentorship opportunities. On Thursdays, Uncommon Construction strengthens leadership and career skills with professional development lessons called “framing experience.”

“The work site environment is intimidating to adults, let alone teenagers, so the way they take it on is incredible,” Aaron says.

Sketching Careers

There are 25 student spots each semester, and the program has a high retention rate. Uncommon Construction reaches roughly 120-150 students annually.

Kesia Brown, the current Build Day Coordinator, is an alumna of Uncommon Construction. Before participating, she had never had a job. She built houses during the school year and a boardwalk celebrating Black History month during the summer semester over her five semesters in the program.

Apprentices from different schools connect in the pre-lunch circle on their first day of the semester at a build in the St. Roch neighborhood.

Through the connections she made as an apprentice, Kesia became comfortable meeting new people and starting to work. The mentors gave her adult role models and hope for finding a job. The build site was a safe space for Kesia regardless of her life at home.

“The youth is powerful,” Kesia says. “They can be successful if people let them be successful, and Uncommon lets them be successful.”

While students work, the nonprofit pays them for their work and keeps earnings for the students in a savings account. They receive their savings upon graduation as an equity award towards college, technical schools, job supplies, or whatever the student needs to help ease their transition into the workforce. The average equity award is over $1,000.

From the Ground Up

Uncommon Construction functions as a construction developer that builds houses to sell on the market and is available for hire to help with other projects. Some houses built are sold speculatively on the market, and others built through partnerships with nonprofits as affordable housing. The program focuses on building responsibly, which often leads to naturally occurring bottomline, affordable housing.

The learning process, including the students using their skills to build projects, makes up for 70 percent of the funds needed for the program. Grants, foundations, and individuals fund the rest of the program’s needs.

Currently, Uncommon Construction is promoting a $1 million capital fundraising campaign to create a campus, which will help the program include more youth each semester and integrate more mentors into their mentorship program. For more information, visit uncommonconstruction.org.


Thyme Hawkins is an editorial intern with Nola Family and our sister publication, Nola Boomers. She is a student at Loyola University, class of 2021.

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