Building Better Communities
By Brett Martin
In addition to beautifying communities by setting brick, block and stone, masons and mason contractors are setting a charitable example. They're donating their time and expertise to improve their communities and to make a difference in people's lives. Here are just a few of their stories:
Volunteer ExtraordinaireAsk those in the industry who best exemplifies the spirit of charity work and one name pops up repeatedly — Calvin Brodie. The president of Brodie Contractors in Raleigh, N.C., he's been a volunteer fireman for the last 18 years, a Boy Scout troop leader for four years, and a church trustee for 20 years
"Why do I do it? I think if I've been blessed with a talent, it needs to show in my community," he said.
When his church was leveled by a tornado in 1988, Brodie used his construction knowledge to serve as project manager for the rebuilding project and to take care of the brickwork.
"If they needed a brick wall built, we built it," Brodie said. He also donated his labor to build dugouts, a concession stand and a press box for the local high school athletic teams. "I'm glad I was able to do it," he said.
Debra Brodie, his wife of 21 years and mother of their five children, said he's very active as a parent, mason and volunteer. "We feel that when the community has people who get involved, it keeps the community looking nice. That's what being a volunteer is all about," she said.
Brodie strives to meet industry needs, too. He's currently serving on the Workforce Development Committee for the Masonry Contractors Association of America (MCAA) and is the MCAA North Carolina state representative. Additionally, he participates in local and state apprentice programs and contests, and is the past president of the North Carolina Masonry Contractors Association.
Inspiring on Many LevelsLynn Donohue, a union bricklayer for 25 years who's now a speaker, author and consultant, used proceeds from her masonry company to found the "Brick by Brick" foundation in July 2000. The New Bedford, N.H.-based non-profit organization "offers a range of innovative programs, activities, and classes that help teens and adults foster creativity and develop the self-confidence, motivation, and goal-setting skills to succeed in life." The foundation currently helps about 250 teenagers each year with programs teaching writing, graphic design and music.
"I really want to emphasize the power of education; it's a leveler. When you have an education, you get a better position in life," said Donohue, who is working toward a master's degree in business management. "All I'm trying to do is help kids because I wish I had that help myself."
And her story is truly inspirational. At age 15, Donohue dropped out of eighth grade and was working in a bar when she learned about a training program for women interested in construction. She followed up and became a professional mason. In 1982, Donohue started Argus Construction, which made her a millionaire. "The brick business changed my life," she said.
Helping Others Find PurposeOn Tuesday nights, Pascal Robertson, president of Robertson Masonry Inc. in Apopka, Fla., is on a mission. He and another volunteer visit a local prison and invite inmates to a 90-minute service of singing, sharing a message, and praying together.
Crediting his faith for his volunteer work, Robertson has been meeting with prisoners for 10 years to help them find meaning in their lives. "Men just have to be encouraged that there is hope in life. When their heart has changed, God will bless them," he said. "I encourage the men that they have a purpose."
Robertson is also one of five instructors who donate three Saturdays a month to the apprentice program for the Mason Association of Central Florida. The program provides hands-on training to men and women who want to learn the masonry trade, Robertson said, adding that the training is designed to address the shortage of masons in Florida.
"Its purpose is to strengthen our labor pool," he said. "This way, the apprentices learn the trade and techniques to apply to the field."
Volunteer Projects — Built to LastMasonry organizations are also stepping up. Members of the Masonry Contractors Association of St. Louis and the Masonry Institute of St. Louis (MISL) teamed up to answer Habitat for Humanity's call to help build 20, two-story homes in the city, providing the brickwork on the front of the houses.
"Everyone believed it was a worthwhile project. Everyone we asked to participate never had any hesitation to do this," said Darrell W. McMillian, P.E., MISL executive director. "It's something that was good for our community and good for our industry. It's important because it's a way to give back to the community. This is the community where we make our living."
Similarly, to help train apprentices, the Merrillville Chapter of the International Union of Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers Indiana/Kentucky (BAC Local 4) built an impressive memorial in Lake Station, Ind., to honor war veterans. The apprentices worked about two weeks — all volunteer time — to complete the Veteran's Memorial Park Walkway.
"It shows the kids that it's not just about the money. It's also about giving back to the community," said Jerry Brown, secretary treasurer for the chapter. "It's not just about going to work everyday; it's about being responsible citizens. All of our chapters do these sorts of charity projects."
Masonry Companies Join in Charity WorkWhile masons and mason contractors handle the hands-on work, industry companies donate tools and materials to help complete the projects. MK Diamond Products Inc., in Torrance, Calif., provided complimentary diamond blades and other products for the building of a sandstone wall that contains the names of every Boy Scout, past and present, from Orange Country, Calif. The wall is big enough to feature the names of future scouts for the next 50 to 60 years.
"It's not just a wall. It's a memorial," said Brian Delahaut, vice president and general manager for MK Diamond. "It was very, very impressive to see 90 years' worth of Boy Scouts who have come and gone and were lost in the records."
Across the country, The Quikrete Companies of Atlanta sponsored a nationwide contest to provide a new basketball court to a school or community. "The Quikrete Companies value tradition and community," said Dennis Winchester, the company's executive vice president. The company repaved a court at a school in Woolwich, Maine, based on a winning essay from a 14-year-old girl.
About the Author
Brett Martin is a freelance writer located in Shakopee, Minn. with several years of construction and writing experience.