Trevor Verrier has combined his training as an electrician and a social worker to help break the cycle of poverty in Detroit. His rare mix of vocation and education led the 30-year-old to run Serve Electric’s pre-apprentice program at the Durfee Innovation Society, which is located on the city’s west side.
Graduates of the 10-week program can enter a four-year paid training regimen at the company. They eventually earn $25 an hour, on the way to obtaining an electrician’s license. “You can turn your family’s trajectory around within a generation,” Verrier says.
Detroit-based nonprofit Life Remodeled leases the former Durfee Elementary–Middle School building for $1 a year from the Detroit Public Schools Community District. Over the past two years, the organization has been renovating the building and sprucing up the surrounding neighborhood with help from an army of area volunteers.
So far, 29 tenants occupy 89 percent of the building’s 143,000 square feet. The startups and organizations bring new opportunities to the community.
Tenants include a Toarmina’s pizza store, which hires students from neighboring Central Academy and High School to work after school, and the Metro Detroit Youth Club, which provides after-school programs for 230 kids a day.
Another DIS tenant, the Lawn Academy, enrolls 85 youth in an after-school tutoring program. The students also tend the yards of elderly residents and military veterans. Beyond Basics operates a literacy center for students and adults that was funded, in part, by General Motors Co. in Detroit.
In a unique twist, Serve Electric bartered for its space in exchange for a room-by-room rewiring of the 92-year-old building. Four days a week, students ranging in age from 18 to 28 learn electrical theory from Verrier during morning classes. In the afternoon, he supervises projects like installing LED lights. Financial literacy, resume-writing, and job interview preparation are part of the program’s holistic approach. What’s more, participants earn $500 every two weeks.
Aejanae Hunter is the first of eight pre-apprentice graduates to work at Serve Electric. When car problems forced her to walk and take buses from Detroit to Sterling Heights, Scott Clode, president of Serve Electric, helped her get a better car. Clode and Verrier are working together to create the Serve Foundation, which will seek grants to expand training programs to include plumbing, welding, and carpentry.
The name Serve Electric, chosen after the company split from Canada-based New Electric, is no accident. “Our name is absolutely critical to me,” Clode says. “Talent is equally spread in the world. Opportunity is not.”