Second chances through solar for returning citizens

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September 28, 2017

It’s a story that Darean Nguyen of Los Angeles tells frequently: He’s sitting in his LA County prison cell, praying for a sign, and a book is tossed into his cell by a passing prison librarian. A solar manual. A book that would forever alter the course of his life after prison.

“I remember telling myself that this was something I was going to look into when I'd served all my time,” he wrote in a recent guest post, “I read through that solar manual, and I was sure I wanted to understand this. I started thinking about homeowners for the first time: I knew how much they spent on electricity every month, and with some of them handling mortgages on the side, it could be a big stretch to pay utility bills.”

A little over a year later, Darean would find himself in a position to help those homeowners, while also shaping his own future. He landed at Homeboy Industries, after hearing about it from a friend, and began training to install solar.

“My training took me to the East Los Angeles Skills Center (ELASC), where I'd go by bus three days a week, all the while telling my girlfriend, ‘This is what I want to do.’ Every time that I was working on solar I thought: ‘This is it, the path for me.’ I was picked for ELASC class president, where they gave me a nickname "Tools", and by September, my girlfriend had bought me real tools, too.”

With the solar industry growing 20% year over year, there’s room for everybody, including returning citizens like Darean Nguyen. This year we’re launching our first correctional facility solar training program in the Central Valley, which will prepare individuals for solar careers after prison. And this week, we hosted “Solar Jobs and Second Chances,” a forum on breaking barriers to employment for the formerly incarcerated, presented in partnership with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti's Office of Reentry and LA Metro Employer Advisory Council.

As for Darean, he was connected with GRID Greater Los Angeles (GLA) through ELASC, and signed up for Installation Basics Training to start getting real-world installation experience with the GLA crew. He put in over 600 hours of training, and eventually earned Team Leader status and the chance to lead volunteers through solar installations for low-income families. Today, he works as a SolarCorps Construction Fellow for GRID GLA, putting his newly minted skills towards a career in solar.

“I mean it when I tell my volunteers not to give up, especially the ones who are wondering about the job opportunities out there. I let them know that they'll get a chance to lead their own teams someday, too, and that GRID will keep driving your learning, with every roof being a different classroom. It’s work that I feel excited to do every morning.”

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