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VetsBuild Long Island program to train military vets in green construction industry gets $200,000 state grant

Rick Wertheim, left, Vice President of United Way

Rick Wertheim, left, Vice President of United Way Long Island stands with Kevin Brittan, right, and Elvin Vargas, center, at the United Way's training center for veterans where they learn construction skills in the green industry in Deer Park, Dec. 17, 2014. Credit: Ed Betz

A program to train military veterans in the high-tech skills of the green construction industry won a recent boost with a $200,000 state grant.

The VetsBuild Long Island program is run by the United Way of Long Island, in conjunction with the United Veterans Beacon House of Bay Shore, a not-for-profit that works with veterans.

In the three years the program has existed, it's trained about 140 veterans in basic construction skills along with more complicated techniques to work in the burgeoning green construction field, which emphasizes energy efficiency and eco-friendly materials.

The state earlier this month awarded the grant to the VetsBuild program as part of $82 million in aid for Long Island projects under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's Regional Economic Development Councils.

"The investment made by New York State Department of State will enable veterans to stay on Long Island and enjoy careers in the green construction sector," United Way of Long Island president and chief executive Theresa Regnante said in a statement. "The best hope for a bright future for Long Island begins and ends with the ability to strengthen our economy and give everyone the opportunity to succeed."

Beacon House in Bay Shore partners with the United Way for outreach to veterans who are looking for employment or job training, and steers interested participants to VetsBuild, Regnante said in an interview. "We put it all together, and we have had great success," she said.

Once a class of veterans has formed, the free five-week program starts inside a warehouse in Deer Park called the E3 SmartBuild Center, where a mock-up of a two-story Cape Cod-style home is set up so that every potential home environment can be replicated for trainees.

"We're able to simulate the latest in what the Department of Energy is requiring" of construction standards, said Rick Wertheim, a trainer and the senior vice president of the United Way's housing division. He pointed to the screens and gauges that monitor temperature, pressure, carbon monoxide levels, and other measurements inside the house. "This is the latest state-of-the-art training."

Kevin Brittan, 22, of Lindenhurst finished the most recent training session this month. He spent four years as an airman first class in the Air Force, which included service in Kyrgyzstan. When he left the military, he filed for unemployment while job-searching -- and discovered the green construction industry.

"I was at the unemployment office, and I saw a paper for VetsBuild," Brittan said. He said he had some construction skills from side jobs -- "basic framing, sheetrocking, things like that. Now I have a skill set."

His classmate, Elvin Vargas, 45, of Lake Ronkonkoma, served in the Army infantry from 1987 to 1991 as a Bradley tank gunner. "My goals are to be the first energy-efficient retrofitter in Suffolk County," he said.

Vargas called VetsBuild "an awesome project," and added, "this is a great opportunity afforded to veterans."

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