‘Next generation’ of masonry workers lauded at Green-Wood graduation

Bridge to Crafts Careers Program Graduates
Bridge to Crafts Careers Program graduates.
Photo by Reyna Iwamoto

Green-Wood Cemetery on Wednesday, June 15 commended the city’s next generation of masonry workers as 14 young men and women celebrated their completion of the 2021 Bridge to Crafts Careers Program.

The graduates — many of whom come from under-served communities and have had to endure challenges such as housing insecurity, behavioral and mental health challenges or involvement in the justice system — each participated in the stone mason’s training program, where they learned the various skills necessary to work on historic sites, such as Green-Wood.

As part of the paid internship program, which teaches stone setting and pointing, participants worked to restore Garrison Mausoleum — the final resting place of Cornelius Kingsland Garrison, the shipping magnate and former mayor of San Francisco.

At the end of the 10-week program, all 14 graduates earned their Occupational Safety and Health Administration certifications for working on supported scaffolding, and many also earned swing scaffolding certification — each required by the city’s Department of Buildings to be hired for construction and masonry jobs.

This year’s completion ceremony is the third to occur and the 14 graduates are among 31 others to have successfully completed the program, a partnership of four organization: Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow (OBT), the International Masonry Institute, the World Monuments Fund and The Green-Wood Historic Fund.

The trainees worked under the guidance of Neela Wickremesinghe, the Robert A. and Elizabeth Rohn Jeffe Director of Restoration and Preservation at Green-Wood.

“I’m really impressed that they were able to go from a year of a pandemic being inside and really pick up and go through a full, in-person program and job,” Wickremesinghe told Brooklyn Paper. “I think that it’s a testament to them, that they are resilient young people and are ready for that next step in their career.”

Graduates working on the mausoleum.Green-Wood Cemetery

During the ceremony, the graduates were awarded with certificates of recognition from US Rep. Nydia Velasquez.

Melissa del Valle Ortiz, community and housing coordinator for Velasquez, emphasized that the work these graduates have done is important to the preservation of history.

“I chalk you up to the prestigious level of historians who are going to be part of the preservation of our history,” Valle Ortiz said. “Without you all, we wouldn’t be able to see things like this the way that they were meant to be seen.”

One of the graduates, Aniyah Carr, said that she first got involved with carpentry 10 years ago when she was placed in a woodshop class.

“There was a cosmetology class and I wanted to be put in that, but there were no more seats, so I had to stay in woodshop — I did it and I fell in love,” Carr said.

Carr’s end goal is to become a carpenter, and she said this experience has taught her dedication and has given her a new perspective.

“I’ve always loved old things,” Carr said. “Knowing there is a job in that — to restore it and keep it up — that taught me a new respect for things around me in the world.”

Fellow grad Francis Rosario said that the most significant thing he’s learned from this experience was the value of hard work.

“You could say hard work when you sit in an office all day doing paperwork but when you have to come out here sit in 90-degree sun, pointing in mortar all day — it’s very monotonous and the only way to get it done is to get it done,” Rosario said. “You just have to power through, stick to it and when you’re done you get this beautiful result and you’re proud of yourself.”

The mausoleum.Green-Wood Cemetery

Richard Moylan, president of Green-Wood, commended the “next generation of masonry workers.”

“We are glad to see how far you have come on this project and we look forward to hearing great things about you in the future,” he said.

The graduates will receive one year of follow-up services from OBT and are now eligible to apply for an apprenticeship with Bricklayers and Allied Craftsworkers Local 1 New York, other jobs in the trades, and higher education to pursue other related fields.

Wickremesinghe told Brooklyn Paper that the graduates have not only worked hard within the past 10 weeks, but they’ve also gained an extra support system in each other.

“A support system is really important for us and the hard skills of getting into a construction trade,” Wickremesinghe said. “I hope that I along with my team were able to give them the skills that they can use to apply themselves to different restoration and construction jobs.”

Looking to the future, Wickremesinghe hopes that the graduates will continue to “ accomplish goals that they see for themselves.”

“Whether that be in higher education, restoration, construction, continuing on in a different trade — I just want them to be able to go forward and live a sustainable life,” she said.