By Kaori Tsukada
Nate Dais never imagined that he’d be designing and constructing park trails—or that he’d enjoy it so much. A few years ago, he was working at a job that didn’t pay enough, and when the economic downturn came, he hit a wall; there were no jobs available. With no way out, he did what he had to do to make ends meet. When he heard about a training program his cousin was doing, it opened a door. Dais knew he wanted to transform his life.
Dais took a number of tests and was admitted to the Breaking the Chains of Poverty Program run by the A. Philip Randolph Institute’s Pittsburgh Chapter, in partnership with GTECH Strategies, the United Steelworkers, and the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh. He received training five days a week during the paid six-week intensive pre-apprenticeship program. On top of the training, nearly every day different speakers gave presentations about roof gardens, solar-powered buildings, and the job potential of the green economy. He earned certifications for remediation skills and graduated with an OSHA 30 training card, proving his ability to recognize and reduce hazards at work.
Dais now works for the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation, constructing trails on Emerald View Park. The Park covers the entirety of Mount Washington, whose coal seams fueled Pittsburgh development into coal country in the 19th century. When the coal ran out, it drained the city of jobs and left the mountainside barren and ugly. Mount Washington Community Development Corporation is taking this once devastated mountain, reforesting parts, and creating trails in others. In the process, it is bringing jobs back to local residents.
Emerald View Park is still covered with the foundations of old houses and buildings built during the coal era. Part of Dais’s job is to clear away the debris, leaving the foundations safe to walk through. He uses flags to plot out new trails. Once the path is marked, he and his crew come through with hand tools, breaking down big boulders with picks, and defining a path through the forest. Water used to run down the mountain directly with no clear path. Now Dais’s trail continues over a guided stream, a crossing built over it with wood the crew carried in on foot. When he first started, Dais was disappointed that he was just maintaining old trails. Now that he is working on developing new trails, he’s hooked.
Even though Dais loves his job, he knows that his position will last only as long as there is funding, so he’s also saving up to start his own business. His plan is to create a car wash and lawn-mowing service so that his customers can complete two chores with one call. He intends to put his strong work ethic and dedication toward his one-year-old son into his business. In 20 years, he hopes to supervise a team around his budding business and expand into other regions.
Dais hopes that local and state government will continue to encourage programs like Breaking the Chains of Poverty. Many of his crew members used to be in jail, or are on probation. Now, they arrive at the jobsite on time and work with dedication. From his own experience, Dais knows that getting paid to do work like this stimulates the mind and gives people opportunities to improve their lives. Trails also draw local residents. Joggers and hikers enjoying the trails often drop by while the crew is working, stopping to say thanks and showing appreciation for their hard work. Programs that create pathways out of poverty benefit society as a whole.