William Lumpkin, wearing a hard hat, while working on a construction site

William Lumpkin

Program Spotlight:

For the past 50 years, nonprofit Melwood has created job opportunities for people with disabilities in the Washington, D.C. area. Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies or other community partners refer participants to Melwood. After an initial intake meeting to discover each participant’s interests and skills, Melwood staff members recommend one of their many employment programs.

Through a partnership with the College of Southern Maryland (CSM), Melwood’s Building Paths program provides both construction pre-apprenticeship credentialing and professional development training. This program is best for those who are interested in construction and willing to commit long-term since the resulting apprenticeship takes several years. The initial program itself lasts 14 weeks and prepares participants to enter competitive integrated employment in construction and other skilled trades.

The program braids soft skills, such as networking and communication, and hard skills, such as the ability to properly use construction tools, compute mathematical concepts, and tie knots. Participants also receive vital certifications in safety. Melwood equips the classrooms at CSM with adaptive tools and provides participants with customized accommodations. In addition, Melwood provides expertise and technical assistance to CSM teachers and staff to facilitate participants’ success. Cohorts include 15 to 20 participants. All participants have the flexibility to switch to another Melwood employment program if, for example, they decide the construction industry is not an ideal match.

Most potential participants are unemployed but interested in financial independence. While some participants come with VR funding for the program, Melwood ensures all participants are financially supported; they earn while they learn.  Melwood also provides bus transportation to the college.

For all of its employment programs, Melwood works with participants’ families, local employers, and local unions. Because the Washington, D.C. area is one of the top places in the nation for union membership, this is an important component to Melwood’s decades of success.

Participant Spotlight:

William Lumpkin began the Building Paths program a few years ago. When he was young, he spent summers working with his father in construction. William is a person with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and has prior justice system involvement. The Building Paths Program taught William to use customized strategies to learn soft and hard skills. To accommodate his memory challenges, he learned to use a notebook and notes app, as well as lean on familial support. He especially appreciated the program’s focus on strengths; he came to believe that people of different ages, disabilities, and languages can all thrive on construction sites and in other good jobs. He recently landed a job in a carpentry apprenticeship and is excited to start.

William Lumpkin working on a construction site

In late 2023, William shared his story as the keynote speaker at the Rehabilitation Act’s 50th Anniversary Celebration with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). Long-term, he aspires to become a construction foreman, as he likes to mentor others. He also hopes to write a book about his experiences in employment and life.

For more success stories, visit the LEAD Center’s new webpage, Employment Success Stories.