Oregon Coast mom works on facility of nonprofit that helped her

DJC OregonMarch 9, 2012

Michelle Hermiston was pregnant with her fifth child when she fled an abusive relationship four years ago, hoping to build a better life for her young children.

But starting over in the small coastal town of Lakeside proved difficult. Hermiston struggled to pay her bills and eventually moved her family into a local shelter. Now she is a member of the construction team that is building an $8 million facility for the very organization that helped her get back on her feet.

“I’ve come completely full circle,” Hermiston said. “I was pretty much homeless with five kids – it was miserable. It was all I could do to maintain myself through the day. But we’ve come a long way.”

Oregon Coast Community Action, a nonprofit that provides children’s programs and emergency services, played a major role in Hermiston’s turnaround. She enrolled in an intensive case management program at ORCCA that helped her return to school and enroll two of her children in Head Start.

And Hermiston, 33, recently wrapped up her first job as a carpenter’s apprentice, working on ORCCA’s new Child and Family Resource Center in Coos Bay.

P&C Construction is building the $8 million, 30,000-square-foot facility, a CM/GC project designed by Scott | Edwards Architecture. P&C project manager Brian Shoemaker said it was a “fortunate surprise” when he caught wind of Hermiston’s history with the nonprofit.

“We just went through our normal hiring process, which involves trying to find local crews,” he said. “I think the program she went through got her back on her feet and showed us that the things (ORCCA) is doing (are) working; we were happy to have her as part of the team.”

The two-story, wood-framed building is tucked onto a forested, five-acre site. Construction began in December and is expected to wrap up by fall. All of the structural concrete is in place, and crews began framing the structure at the end of February.

Michelle Hermiston, right, was a member of the P&C Construction’s concrete crew that helped build a 30,000-square-foot facility in Coos Bay.The facility will house a Head Start center on the first floor, and child services, family resource services and administrative offices on the second floor. Next door, R.E. Noah and Co. crews are working on a $2 million food bank project for ORCCA.

“We have a number of projects in the pipe,” said Patricia Gouveia, ORCCA essential services director. “We’re in a rural community that’s really strapped for good-paying jobs, so we try to go forward any time we can get involved in a project that helps.”

ORCCA values its ability to provide local construction jobs, but Gouveia said officials were nevertheless surprised to see a former program participant on the jobsite.

However, after ORCCA helped Hermiston connect with the local employment organization and community college, she went on to complete the Oregon Green Technology Certificate program. Through Southwestern Oregon Community College, Hermiston got in touch with Oregon Tradeswomen Inc. in Portland, where she completed an eight-week pre-apprenticeship program that put her on a career path in carpentry.

Hermiston’s apprentice work with the P&C concrete crew is over, but she helped pave the way for another struggling individual.

Christopher Thomas was going through ORCCA’s Home Now program, which provides temporary housing for homeless families, when his case manager found out that he had experience in construction. Because of the example Hermiston set, ORCCA reached out to P&C.

“It worked out so well with Michelle (Hermiston), and whenever you can help someone else it makes everybody feel like you’re making a difference,” Shoemaker said. “We didn’t want to let it end there.”

Thomas has a wife and two children, and now a new job. The framing subcontractor, WMX Construction LLC, hired Thomas onto its crew of approximately 20 workers.

And though the jobs are temporary, Hermiston is confident that her five weeks of work on the Child and Family Resource Center will set the stage for a better life in Lakeside.

“It is just absolutely cool how I get to help build the building for the same people who helped me improve my life,” she said. “The trades can be pretty tough, but it is totally my plan to stick with carpentry. … If a single mom with five kids can do it, it’s possible for anyone.”