March 9, 2023

Avenues for Justice Provides A Path Forward Through Certifications

Shahiem Mendez teaches OSHA and Site Safety at the AFJ Harlem Community Center. 

Photos by Stella Baer

Avenues for Justice (AFJ) provides a path forward for academic success and income stability through employment to all of our Participants. Each young person’s path may take different turns, but AFJ remains committed to providing individualized services to NYC’s youth and young adults who seek our support.

Through our HIRE UP Program, Participants can access job readiness training and certification, academic and educational assistance, life skills and legal rights training, teen empowerment, along with mental and physical health wellness. All of these services prevent further involvement with the criminal justice system, lower recidivism and help to prepare Participants for the workforce. Not only have we expanded the variety of certifications we offer in2023, but we have also transitioned our OSHA-30 Safety Education and Training program, along with the Flagger and Scaffold User Training, to take place on site at our Harlem community center. All certification training courses are offered free of charge to our Participants. 

At the beginning of March, six AFJ Participants completed the OSHA Site Safety Education and Training at our Harlem Community Center. Earlier this week, eight Participants completed the Flagger and Scaffold User Training. The OSHA training program at AFJ is facilitated by Shahiem Mendez, who has worked in the construction industry for over eight years. After becoming an OSHA Authorized Instructor five years ago, Shahiem started teaching the training course to individuals looking for careers in the industry across New York State. He partnered with us a year ago, after learning through a peer organization that AFJ was looking to provide employment opportunities in construction for our Participants.

What are OSHA-30 Hour & SST-10 Hour Trainings?

As a requirement of NYC Local Law 196, as of March 1, 2021, workers at most major construction sites must show that they have completed a Site Safety Training (SST) course within the previous five years. OSHA 30-Hour Outreach Training for Construction teaches what you need to know to build a culture of safety and reduce job-site accidents. The all-inclusive training program provides essential safety information on OSHA compliance issues and is beneficial for safety directors, foremen, field supervisors, superintendents, safety specialists, or anyone who works in the construction industry.

Shahiem’s Background is one which Resonates with our Participants:

“Growing up underprivileged and in what was then a drug-infested, violent area (in the Queensbridge Houses), I endured years of not having the emotional and financial support for my basic needs. With no support system, I had to look to people that I admired and wanted to emulate in order to find ways to improve my situation.

I tried working in the dental industry, and although I found a job, my goal was to continue my education and become a dental hygienist. After learning that I could not pursue my dream of becoming a dental hygienist due to my criminal background, I realized I had to change my career path. I began working small constructions jobs until I was fortunate to get into Local79, a union which provided me with job security. From there, I started looking at possible career options and chose to become an OSHA instructor. My dream is to establish an OSHA training school – a dream which is still in progress, but attainable!  

I’m honored to be involved with AFJ and to teach OSHA training courses to AFJ program participants. These courses are a prerequisite to certifications that are required by law for individuals who meet the standards and requirements of OSHA and the Department of Buildings.

This work is very meaningful to me, as I’ve been impacted personally by the limitations of having a criminal background and have experienced incredible hardships to get to where I am today. I identify with AFJ program participants as we share similar life circumstances. Their advantage is that AFJ can support their journey in ways that were not available to me as a teenager. It’s It is important that AFJ program participants know that change is possible, that they can turn their lives around and work in this industry.

AFJ Participants Share Their Thoughts On The OSHA Training:

“I decided to do this OSHA-30 training honestly to gain the experience, the knowledge and also why not it’s a free class and it’s a certification. Who wouldn’t want more experience, and more doors open for a better future in life. I hope to get a career out of it.”

“I took the OSHA class to get my certificate, to open doors for me, to see where it could take me."

"My hopes is to build a house, different things, an electrician a little bit, a little of everything I want to learn.”

“I feel like it was a brand new opportunity for me to explore new things in the construction world. I always wanted to do construction. My dad did construction. He did some demolition before I was born. I just always wanted to get into it. Don’t let anyone tell you can’t do anything.”

“When I found out about the class and that it was free I thought, why not get a few certificates under my belt. Then I heard about the union and my father is in the union. It’s a great opportunity for me to get into it. It’s also free, so why not get free classes and free training. Get a few certificates under your belt in order to grow and get further in life.”


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