Rising Sun’s GETS cohort at work in their shop. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
Rising Sun’s GETS cohort at work in their shop. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

“There aren’t a lot of women in bricklaying,” says 28-year-old Brittney Denise Holmes. “That’s why I want to do it.”

Holmes BARTs in daily from San Francisco to participate in the Green Energy Training Services (GETS) pre-apprenticeship program at Rising Sun Energy Center in Berkeley. While at first trepidatious, Holmes quickly grew to love the program – “It’s like we’re VIP!” she says – and now doesn’t mind her long commute.

Alvaro Sandoval, 27, from Richmond quit his job at Taco Bell to begin the GETS program and is hoping to become an electrician.

“I’ve always wanted to do stuff with wiring, I’ve always had a curiosity about it,” he says.

Operating out of a former Heinz ketchup factory near San Pablo and Ashby, Rising Sun is a veteran nonprofit helping youth, underserved and re-entry adults pursue careers in construction and clean energy. For this organization, uniting job growth with a pivot towards sustainability is a must.

“We really see our work in that intersection of economic equity and development, and climate resilience,” said President and Executive Director, Jodi Pincus. “From our perspective, you can’t deal with climate change until you deal with the inequalities. We need to prepare the workforce and future generations to be really thinking about these issues.”

Founded in 1994 as a green energy education center, Rising Sun has since become a leading green training, employment, and home efficiency center. Today, the organization is best known for its two programs – California Youth Energy Services (CYES) and GETS – and more recently its policy work in helping to ensure that disadvantaged communities get to reap the benefits of clean power and the clean jobs that come with it.

The CYES summer program focuses on empowerment through employment, training youth ages 15 to 22 to carry out free energy assessments in residential homes and outfitting them with energy- and water-saving accessories. The program – which began in 2000 as a summer activity for students at Berkeley High – now trains youth across six counties, employing them to outfit around 4,400 homes each year. Almost any home in the Bay Area can request a ‘Green House Call’.

The GETS program, established in 2009, is a 12-month pre-apprenticeship program that prepares adults for careers in construction, energy efficiency, and solar sectors. Currently, the program serves 80 participants a year through several small group cohorts. They’ve recently added an all-women cohort.

“There aren’t a lot of women in bricklaying,” says 28-year-old Brittney Denise Holmes. “That’s why I want to do it.” Photo: Melati Citrawireja

“We’re really trying to empower women into non-traditional work,” says Pincus. “We’re changing the stigma associated that women can’t do this work. They can do this work – they absolutely can – and it should be a viable career option for them.”

The GETS program works to maintain their goal of 40% re-entry folks and 50% women. They partner with local organizations, giving parolees and re-entry individuals the resources to secure well-paying, blue-collar jobs.

“What I love about GETS is it’s a deeply transformational program. It provides folks access and opportunities into a job that can be a pathway out of poverty for them,” says Pincus. “They’re gaining the skills, the confidence, tools, and network of people, to change their own lives.”

Pincus radiantly noted that a few former participants have gone on to buy homes.

The first nine weeks of the GETS program involves full-time classes, assignments, field trips, and hands-on basic construction (a recent cohort built a tool shed in their workshop.) They get paid for it too.

Emmanuel Elijah Ross participates in the current cohort. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

Twenty-eight year-old Emmanuel Elizah Ross, from Oakland, says the stipends have taught him to be on time. “If you’re on time and you don’t miss any days then you get your full stipends. It’s just like a job and I like it.”

Ross plans on applying to become an electrician after finishing the program.

Sandoval, also on the road to becoming an electrician, says that now that he’s enrolled in GETS, he feels “a lot more comfortable with myself than I have been over the last couple years.”

Alvaro Sandoval, from Richmond, plans on becoming an electrician. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

By the end of this construction pre-apprenticeship program, the participants earn an MC3 (Multi Craft Core) Pre-Apprenticeship certification, which includes and OSHA 10 certification (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and First Aid/CPR training. This certification signals to the different trades that these individuals are primed for a union apprenticeship program or construction job.

For 12 months following graduation, the cohorts receive case management support and career services to help them make the next step. Some graduates go straight into construction jobs while others pursue training programs. Over the years, Rising Sun has established lasting partnerships with programs like Tradeswomen Inc, The Building Trades Council of Alameda County, and A Squared Ventures – all of which help to recruit for GETS and connect the graduates with jobs.

In partnership with Grid Alternatives, GETS now also offers a separate training – GETS Solar – that prepares individuals for careers in rooftop solar installation.

Pincus, who first struck an interest with Rising Sun when two CYES members came to her home for an energy assessment, says one reason she felt compelled to become more involved was seeing how empowering these jobs were.

“We want young people who are going to be our environmental stewards, who are going to be leaders, who know how to activate their voice and participate. We also want our adults to feel they can civically engaged,” says Pincus. “If we want to reach our own goals we have to include everyone.”

A participant in the current GETS cohort makes a saw horse. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

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Melati Citrawireja is a writer, photographer and curious thinker about the underbelly of places. She began contributing to Berkeleyside after a summer internship in 2015 and earned a BA in Development...