NEWS: In Chicago, Job Corps Instructor Townsend Motivates Students to Change Their Lives Through Bricklaying

International Union of Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers

Jackie Townsend, BAC Local 74 Illinois member and brick instructor at the Paul Simon Chicago Job Corps Center, knows that bringing up the next genera­tion of BAC craftworkers goes beyond teaching the tools of the trade. “I tell my students that everyone has the capacity to be great; you just have to find it within. If you invest in yourself, you can become a success through the program,” she said.

To help her students cap into that greatness, Townsend starts class each week with “Motivational Monday;’ playing an inspiring video or song before diving into hands-on instruction. It sets the tone for the week and gives her the opportunity check in with her students on their goals – in the classroom and beyond. “I try to show them that I care about them and their ability to better themselves,” she said. “I tell them, ‘being a bricklayer changed my life. If it can change mine, it can change yours, too.”‘

In her two years as an instructor, Townsend has helped many students graduate from the program and find employment as BAC apprentices. She encourages them to go where the oppor­tunity is – even if it means leaving their home in the Chicago area. In turn, Townsend prepares her students for life after Job Corps by helping them find a place to live and teaching them how to budget, save money, and be on their own.

Her role as a mentor doesn’t end when her students leave the program, either. Five of Townsend’s former students are currently living and working together on a refractory job in Louisville, Kentucky with signatory contractor Heimbrock, Inc.

“Not a day goes by that one of them doesn’t call me to ask for advice, or just to say ‘thanks for believing in me. I’m not going to lee you down.’ I tell them, ‘Don’t worry about letting me down. Don’t let yourself down. You have an opportunity to have a career, nor just a job.”‘

Townsend’s motivational teaching style has kept her class at full capacity – with a waitlist of students from the Paul Simon Center hoping to try their hand at bricklaying. Her students recently nominated her for Job Corps’ Paramount Instructor Award for Women in Nontraditional Occupations.

“[Ms.] Townsend has taught us that bricks and blocks are not just used to build walls and barriers, but to create doors, windows, and paths to opportunity,” said Job Corps student Marvin Bahena in his nomination statement for the award. “Not only does she teach us how to be masons, but she gives us principles to live by: integrity, perseverance, preparation, and me importance of doing what you love. I honestly would not be the man I am today without [Ms.] Townsend to show me how a team of strangers can become a family, and we can always do and be better, not only as workers, but as people.”

“I love my job, and this trade;’ said Townsend. “I’m a bricklayer first and foremost, but I always knew I wanted to be an instructor. In the beginning, it wasn’t always easy. There were times I struggled to reach my students. Once I proved myself and showed my students that I cared about them, though, they could begin to see how much I loved bricklaying, and realized they could love it, too. Being able to inspire and change a life—that’s the benefit of what I do.”

The International Masonry Institute (IMI) operates 34 Job Corps brick and tile training programs at 30 centers around the United States, employing BAC instructors who provide classroom and hands-on training. The program offers a viable pathway to a career in the trades. For more information on IMIJob Corps programs, visit imtef.org/job-corps-program. 

Townsend’s class of students at the Paul Simon Chicago Job Corps Center. Many are already working as apprentices, or have been placed in BAC pre-job programs. Front row from left, William Zumba, local 4 IN/KY apprentice; Clifton Wilson; Lexeceon Johnson, local 4 IN/KY apprentice; Jackie Townsend; Neo Bucio, Local 4 IN/KY apprentice; Marvin Bahena, local 21 IL apprentice; Alexander Howard, pre-job student at the BAC/IMI National Training Center; and Ronell White. Back row from left, Malik Burrrell; Jaylen Howard; Trayvon Jackson; Semmie Thomas of Local 4 IN/KY; Satire Sawyer; and Joel Washington, pre-job student at the BAC/IMI National Training Center.