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Q&A with Pamela Filochowski

Welcome to our new Q&A series, where we interview staff, trainees, and community partners for a deeper look into Building Up’s journey. This week, we interviewed Pamela. Pamela entered the program after being incarcerated, and despite many obstacles, Pamela completed the program in the June 2020. She recently entered the Toronto Carpenters Union Local 27, and is excited to begin working.

Tell me a little bit about yourself!

My name is Pamela, and I’m twenty-six years old. I got into the program because I had been incarcerated. So initially my charge happened five years ago, and it’s been quite a daunting process. It’s been very, very draining. But through it all, I’ve grown a lot. I’m very grateful. I suffered a lot of losses prior to me being incarcerated. For example, I lost my brother. He was twenty-six years old. When I had been incarcerated, I doubted my potential upon being released. I’ve never been the type of person to ask for support, I’ve always been quite independent. I just felt as though my criminal history would have always affected how people perceive me, or how people treat me and how people judge me, never mind who I am as a person. So, yeah, that’s kind of a little bit of background about me. I came from a single parent home with three children, me being the youngest. I was quite the rebel of growing up. Throughout the years, I’ve kind of taken my experience and everything that I’ve been through. Instead of being upset at the world, I took it in stride. That’s how I ended up in the position that I am right now, which I’m very grateful for. It’s a little bit upsetting that I had to go through so much to grow the way I have. But I’m very, very happy and I like to look at myself as an optimistic person. So maybe that that influenced how I’ve progressed since being out. I’ve only been out under a year now.

How did you find out about Building Up?

I found out about Building Up while I was incarcerated. The great thing about Building Up is that they came to the jail to introduce their program, which to me was very, very endearing. There aren’t a lot of places where you have the opportunity to make a career or make something of yourself- they’re not going to think, “OK, well, let’s go to a jail and scout for trainees.” The fact that they even took the initiative to come, and had this great presentation called the reintegration fair, stood out to me. It was beyond just regular kind of support. It was the support from people, but also giving you an opportunity to get into position where you will be successful on your own.

What are some examples of that support?

 On June 27th, the day after we had completed the program, I had been arrested and seeing that I was on parole, I had to get sent back to the federal prison. I could have gotten my parole taken away, and I could have stayed in there. But the support I got from Building Up, and the effort that they went through to contact my P.O. to let my parole officer know of my progress, had a huge impact on me being released. If I weren’t in Building Up, and if I didn’t have their support, I probably still would have been incarcerated until this moment. It’s an amazing thing. I was in jail for just under a month and as soon as I was released, Building Up said we have an opportunity for you to get on site, would you like to? And I said yes, please, please send me to work! It was amazing. I wouldn’t have been out if it wasn’t for their support. They wrote a letter to my parole officer, and my case manager even personally wrote me a letter in jail. For me to know that these people went through this kind of effort, it was amazing.

In what ways has Building Up impacted your life?

 Honestly, you can have a program that teaches you a lot, but if you don’t have the support, you’re less likely to gravitate and remember things. For me and especially me coming out after being incarcerated for a year, I was very, very hesitant. I didn’t know who I could trust. I didn’t think anyone even cared about people like me coming out of jail. The support pushed me so much further. I care about my reputation with Building Up. With the way that they have stepped out for me, the least that I can do is have a strong work ethic, right? For me, they were life changing. I don’t mean to sound so Walt Disney, but it truly was! From being incarcerated, and having zero support, to having people who care about you. They care about your mental health. They care about your circumstances. They care about your success. It was just an enlightening moment for me to have that support and to know that there are people that still care, and people that will want to put you in better positions and give you better opportunities to succeed. For me, it’s the amazing, amazing support that I get from the staff and all of Building Up, period.

Do you have any advice for anyone who is maybe about to enter the program or just thinking of applying?

Do it, do it, do it. One of the greatest things you’ll get from this is experience, which is amazing! The atmosphere and the working environment is honestly like no other. Not just the Building Up staff, but the other trainees and your other co-workers understand. The thing I like most about Building Up and is they are never judgmental. Everyone’s facing obstacles. No one thinks they’re better than anybody. It’s an amazing working environment. If you have a passion for working with your hands, if you have a passion for learning new things, this is the thing that you need to do.

What do you feel like Building Up taught you?

One of the one of the things that I like that I learned the most is becoming a lifelong learner. That’s something that Building Up will teach you once you get into the program. You can constantly learn and grow from whatever situation you’re in, and you can always gain something from it. Just because you’ve learned one trade doesn’t mean you stop there, continue to learn for the rest of your life. Another thing is responsibility. A lot of people may not look at that as a skill, but being punctual, being responsible, and communication skills are very, very valued. If you approach someone and you just communicate what you’re going through, they will understand and they will try to help.

What are you up to now after graduating from Building Up?

I accomplished one of my goals when I had been released from prison. One of the goals that I had set for myself was to get into a union with the help of Building Up. I got into my first pick, which was the carpentry union. That was that was one of my biggest goals coming out of jail, because I already knew I wanted to get into the program.

What has your experience been getting into the union?

At the beginning, I was very, very intimidated by the process of getting into a union. When it’s first introduced to you, it sounds very, very intimidating. But the help from Building Up, made it a lot easier. For example, my union fees were covered. I was directed to specific people who were already in the union, and who kind of allowed me to have an easier gateway into the union. It can be very difficult if you don’t have the connections that Building Up can provide.

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Based on successful non-profit social enterprise models across the country, Building Up was developed in Toronto to improve our city’s environmental efficiency, affordable housing stock, and most of all – to create a real pathway for individuals experiencing barriers to enter apprenticeships and careers in the trades. Check out our blog for news, updates, job opportunities, and more!

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