Local 7 apprentices, leadership help Michigan residents after May flood

While cooped-up residents were getting ready for the first signs of summer, residents of Sanford, Michigan, were picking up the pieces and sweeping away mud and water to see what the Tittabawassee River had left behind.

In May, an abundance of rain left dams to fail and the river to flood, taking the town of Sanford with it. Wayne Stover, business agent from Sheet Metal Workers Local 7, lived upstream and his property remained unscathed, but his neighbors weren’t so lucky.

“As a member of the community, I started helping,” Stover said. “We started trying to figure out what we could save. At this point right now, we have 40 families still displaced living in tents and campers with no financial help. They’re paying for this with what little they have. Some had to walk away from their homes.”

While some homes had 2 to 3 feet of water, the river had completely filled others to the ceiling. Homes also were picked up off their foundations and carried downstream where they were demolished in the current.

Stover approached leadership at Local 7, including instructor Dan Bryant and training coordinator Darek Scarlavai, to see if any apprentices could help with the project. Together, they chose apprentices who had good grades and were ahead in their shop projects.

The group, which also included Local 7 Business Agent James Callahan and organizers John Coleman and Mike Salas, started with demolition and moved toward duct and furnace replacement. As of October, they finished work on four homes, but they helped out on a total of 50 homes out of the 300 that were affected. All together, the group has accumulated about 40 volunteer hours each on the project.

“It looked like a war zone,” Salas said.

“If it wasn’t covered in mud, it was washed away,” Coleman added. “It was really tough to see.”

The project also was used as an educational opportunity for the participating fourth-year apprentices, which included Scott Beecher, Matthew Blehm, Ben Rohde and Ethan Neuenfeldt.

“You can show them tricks, and we learned from the apprentices, too,” Stover said. “They got to be out on the job site with us. We took that extra time to teach them.”

Even though Local 7 apprentices are trained in all aspects of the trade, they may work more in one specialty, depending on their employer, Scarlavai said. For instance, an apprentice and journeyman who typically work for industrial contractors got to stretch their duct-installation muscles, which they seldom get to use.

“We want our apprentices to be able to do everything,” he added. “For these guys, it was a real eye-opener. It’s really nice for me to see the things we try to focus on at the training center they also focus on in real life on the job site.”

The experience was overwhelming, but apprentices were grateful for the opportunity to not only learn more about their trade but help out fellow citizens of Michigan.

“I could see the destruction these people had to deal with,” Rohde said. “I was happy to help in any way.”

Materials used to work on the homes were donated by U.S. Sheet Metal, Dee Cramer, Wendling Sheet Metal and Smillie Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning.

“These people lost everything they owned, and in the end, it’s the community that came together to try to give them their lives back,” Coleman said. “It’s guys like Wayne and these apprentices who stepped up to help people they don’t even know.”

If you would like to help Local 7 further assist the residents of Sanford, contact Wayne Stover at (989) 225-0095 or send an email to wstoversmw7@gmail.com.

Apprentices receive college-accredited training during the program in AutoCAD, air balancing, refrigeration/service, welding and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) design, fabrication and installation. While they are learning in the classroom, they are gaining skills on the job site including installation of architectural sheet metal, kitchen equipment and duct for heating and air conditioning systems in residential and commercial buildings.

The goal is for apprentices to graduate with a college degree, zero college debt and a career to last a lifetime. More than 14,000 apprentices participate in 148 training centers across the United States and Canada, learning curriculum and using the free training materials provided by the International Training Institute (ITI), the education arm of the unionized sheet metal, air conditioning and welding industry.

For more information about ITI and its available training curriculum for members covering sheet metal trade work, visit the website or call 703-739-7200.

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