Thanh Nguyen has a plan. Crafted on a random piece of paper at a Habitat build site, this plan is his future…and it’s a great one.
In 2010, Thanh and his parents traveled from Vietnam to the United States. Thanh says for him it meant a better education, a chance, an opportunity to become whatever you want.
In their small two-bedroom apartment, Thanh, his parents and four brothers had no heat and leaky pipes. They paid over 30 percent of their income towards the rent. A home of their own with more space for all seven Nguyens was only a dream. Then in 2014 Thanh’s parents, Tuy and Trang, learned about Habitat for Humanity from a Vietnamese newspaper. They applied and were accepted into the homeownership program.
At the time Thanh had graduated from high school and was taking classes in English as a second language at Portland Community College. So sometimes Thanh served as interpreter at Habitat meetings for Vietnamese future homeowners and applicants. Thanh also began working on his family’s sweat equity hours, volunteering sometimes at the Portland ReStore and at the Habitat construction site. That’s when things really started to happen.
It was there that Thanh met a journeyman from Square 1 Electric and asked him how to become an electrician.
“I can’t believe it, you know,” Thanh recalls. “I never talked to [Mitch] before, but he said, ‘Oh, I’ll show you how to become an electrician.’ He took out a paper, he wrote like the address of the school, how I apply, what do I need–everything how to become an electrician.”
Thanh said he was so lucky that day.
And Thanh has followed that map. He is taking the required Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (JATC) classes, he’s working on his language proficiency through PCC, and for the past year he has been an electrician apprentice at Square 1 Electric. After completing a total of four years as an apprentice (8,000 on-the-job hours) and completing 144-180 classroom hours each of those years, Thanh will sit for the State of Oregon’s Journeyman Electrician Examination.
Thinking about his plan, Thanh repeats his father’s words: “You want to walk, you have to crawl; if you want to run, you have to walk first. So step by step, don’t skip it. If I skip it I’m going to fall.”
Step by step seems to be working well for Thanh.
“It has been a pleasure working with Thanh and watching him learn and grow into a great electrician,” said Thanh’s Square 1 supervisor, Mark Rohl. “His positive attitude and outlook is encouraging and motivating. His motto of ‘Be patient, be kind’ is something I find myself reflecting on. I have no doubt he will one day be a great electrician, and leader in whatever he does.”
On the home front, things are feeling a lot more secure, too. In December 2015, the Nguyen family received the keys to their new four-bedroom, two-bath home in Glisan Gardens. Thanh used to sleep in the living room at their old apartment, but now he has his own room. He says the living room is for family time.
Recently we found Thanh working up on a scissor lift at the new Gresham ReStore where Square 1 electricians replaced the old lights with new LEDs. “I can see the circle now,” he said. He talks about Habitat, about helping to build his home and other people’s homes, and he talks about The ReStore as he watches donations begin to accumulate inside the new store.
“Habitat is a really good organization because they teach us how to become a good neighbor,” Thanh explains. “They teach how to finance your money, paychecks, how to pay. They teach everything, how to maintain the house…For me, I want to say thank you to everybody at Habitat.”
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