CULVER CITY : Teen Construction Workers Get Chance to Rebuild Lives


Filling out an application for part-time work, 18-year-old Tony Chacon of Culver City talked about the many jobs he had sought--and failed to get.

But this time he was applying to the Mar Vista Family Center, a nonprofit social services organization near the Mar Vista Gardens housing project. The center was hiring 30 “at-risk” youths to help build a $103,000 addition to the facility.

Chacon got the job.

The center, on South Slauson Avenue, offers preschool and after-school programs, as well as family training for parents. Los Angeles County provided Proposition A funds for the center’s addition, which will include office space and a community room. The work is scheduled to be completed next month.


The center opened in 1980, when the surrounding neighborhood was beset by gang violence. Since then, gang violence in the neighborhood has declined, and some former gang members are among those helping to expand the family center.

The center is paying the youths $5 an hour for their construction work. Those in school adjust their work schedule so that it doesn’t interfere with their studies, and some work on Saturdays.

Few have experience as carpenters, but they are learning with the guidance of workers from Brothers Construction Co., the Gardena-based contractor in charge of the project.

Brothers so far has identified at least one youth as a possible hire and has offered to give references for some of the others, said Wesley Dooley, vice president of the company.


The staff of the family center also is trying to place the teen-agers in construction jobs when the Mar Vista project ends next month, said Lucia Diaz, director of the center. Some of the youths do not appear interested, however.

“Let’s put it this way: Half of them are interested in what they’re doing, and the other half are there to get paid,” Dooley said. “But whatever we can show them about construction, we’ll show them. This is a good way to make a living.”

For Joel Deaciano, 17, the job gives him something to do and extra money. He finishes school at 1:15 p.m. and heads straight for work.

“I don’t have anything to do in the afternoon,” said Deaciano, who lives near the construction site. “This is better than hanging around.”

Others see the project as career training. Chacon, who attends classes at a vocational school, says he hopes to parlay his work at the family center into a full-time job.