Ten students from all over New York City graduated on Thursday, May 24, from the pilot masonry restoration program at Green-Wood Cemetery. The ceremony was held inside the chapel at the cemetery.
The program was created from a partnership among four organizations: the Brooklyn-based workforce development organization, Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow (OBT); the education arm of the Bricklayers and Allied Crafts Union, the International Masonry Institute; the World Monuments Fund; and the Green-Wood Historic Fund.
“For 10 spots, we had something like 70 applicants from across the city,” said Liliana Polo-McKenna, CEO of OBT. “It’s a small but mighty group of 10.”
For the future, Polo-McKenna hopes to branch out in Brooklyn and attract more people to utilize the services of OBT. “We think that there are a ton of opportunities here in Brooklyn for jobs in the trades and construction fields. For us, it is really learning about what makes someone successful in this program.”
Those that graduated on Friday worked very closely with expert masons and worked tirelessly on various monuments around the cemetery.
“It doesn’t help the cemetery so much as it allows the cemetery to use its assets to be valuable to the community,” said John Connolly, director of public engagement and development at Green-Wood Cemetery. “We do have projects on site that require this sort of work, but we also have a dedicated team of professionals that can do that work much more quickly than trainees can. That being said, I think it’s of the great value of the community to have these programs in action.”
The 10 trainees who graduated are now qualified masons who are eligible to take the union exam and apply for various jobs in construction all around New York City.
Richard Moylan, president of Green-Wood Cemetery, is proud of this program and what the cemetery can provide for young people who have a hard time getting to college. “The government is making it difficult to go to college now,” Moylan said. “Programs like this are important.”
Graduates weren’t the only ones who benefitted from this 12-week program. Edwin Ramirez, one of the instructors and a self-proclaimed journeyman, was inspired by the students he worked with. “For the last 12 weeks, I’ve been personally involved,” Ramirez said to his students. “Thank you for being part of my life.”
Ramirez also added that his trainees worked hard. “Had they been training for the Olympics, I’d be training them for gold medals,” he said.
Once the ceremony concluded, all 10 newly graduated masons walked out of the chapel into the bright sun with smiles on their faces, ready to start a new journey to better their lives.
Green-Wood Cemetery is located at 500 25th Street.