Eastern State masonry program breaks down walls, figuratively — by restoring them, literally

Workforce development program a natural fit within former prison's stone walls

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — One thing Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site in Fairmount has is a lot of stone, so it’s a natural fit for a masonry academy. The former prison's new workforce development program is breaking down walls, figuratively — by restoring them, literally.

“We can do this program for many years and not run out of work to do,” said Liz Trumbull, associate director of historic preservation, facilities and trades programs.

Eastern State Penitentiary’s Masonry Academy offers women, people of color and formerly incarcerated citizens workforce development opportunities in the building trades.

“We have a pipeline to full-time employment following four weeks of the academy,” Trumbull said.

One of the projects of the Masonry Academy is the preservation of an outdoor stone building, which will be the future home of Eastern State’s Preservation Trades Center.
One of the projects of the Masonry Academy is the preservation of an outdoor stone building, which will be the future home of Eastern State’s Preservation Trades Center. Photo credit John McDevitt/KYW Newsradio

The academy is the first part of that three-part pipeline, graduate Freddy Ortiz of West Kensington explained.

“From here, there were a couple of options laid out for us,” he said. “So, there is the four-week Masonry Academy program. And the second phase is the four-week fellowship. And then you have the apprenticeship. And then that road would lead to becoming a journeyperson.”

That’s a skilled worker with an official apprenticeship qualification, considered fully competent and authorized to work in that field.

Freddy Ortiz and Raymond Zaizay are two of the 10 graduating Masonry Academy crew members
From left: Freddy Ortiz and Raymond Zaizay are two of the 10 graduating Masonry Academy crew members. Photo credit John McDevitt/KYW Newsradio

During the month of June, 10 participants got paid on-the-job training by industry professionals.

“This program is geared to minorities in Philadelphia because minorities are underrepresented in the building trades,” said Raymond Zaizay, a graduate who immigrated from Liberia. “So this is an opportunity to train us and also an opportunity to get into the unions.”

One of the projects was the preservation of an outdoor stone building, which will be the future home of Eastern State’s Preservation Trades Center for all building trade opportunities.

Featured Image Photo Credit: John McDevitt/KYW Newsradio