On June 16, 14 young New Yorkers graduated from a unique masonry and historic preservation program at Green-Wood Cemetery.
Throughout the ten-week curriculum, the students helped to renovate and restore a century-old monument in the heart of the cemetery, an achievement that was also celebrated at Wednesday’s event.
“It’s great that we get this work done, but the most important thing is that we are creating a future for some of these people,” explained Green-Wood Cemetery president Richard Moylan. “Not everyone needs to go to college, and there are some people who don’t know what they want to do yet, but they know they like working with their hands.”
The program, officially called Bridge to Crafts Careers, was organized by the Green-Wood Historic Fund and three community partners: Brooklyn-based workforce development organization Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow, the International Masonry Institute, and the World Monuments Fund.
Bridge to Crafts Careers began in 2018, but Green-Wood was forced to suspend the program last year due to the pandemic. However, students who had been accepted into the 2020 class were allowed to complete the program this year.
Graduates from the program earn their OSHA certification and go on to a diverse set of careers, including jobs in tile setting, carpentry, and positions at Brooklyn’s Local 1 of the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers.
“The level of interest every single year that we’ve done this is amazing,” explained Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow CEO Liliana Polo-McKenna. “Hundreds of people are interested in doing this because of the opportunities they see. Even if it isn’t specifically masonry, there are a number of paths they can take.
“And the fact that this partnership is really local makes the program even more special,” she added. “Our office is literally a few blocks away.”
Throughout the program, the students worked to restore the ornate mausoleum of shipping magnate, reformer, and San Francisco mayor Cornelius Kingsland Garrison (1809-1888).
The mausoleum was selected because of the significant deterioration it has experienced since its constructruction over 140 years ago. Students were tasked with replacing old mortar with new historically accurate mortar and performing additional stone repair and cleaning.
“We have all put in so much into this historic structure and we are so happy to share it with you today,” said Neela Wickremesinghe, director of Restoration and Preservation at Green-Wood Cemetery. “It looks just as good as it did when it was created in the 19th century.
“The graduates’ story is now linked with Garrison’s, and I for one think that it is more compelling,” Wickremesinghe added. “You learned a new trade, saved a priceless monument, and gained skills that will help you with the next phase of your life.”
Elimarie Garcia-Cosme from the World Monuments Fund agreed, saying “preservation is near and dear to my heart, and it is critical that we have talented young people entering the field.”
After the ceremony, the Star caught up with some of the graduates to hear their thoughts on the experience.
“Paper and pencil has been my best friend since I was a kid,” said Francis Rosario. “I wanted to do something a little more impactful. I love the hard work that comes with masonry and I am proud to look at the finished product.”
“About ten years ago I was in a woodshop class in school and I was not into it,” explained Aniyah Carr. “I thought, ‘I am a girl, they have a cosmetology class, put me in that instead.’ There were no more seats though, so I stayed in the woodshop class and I fell in love with it. I loved working with my hands and I knew a sit-down job would never work for me.”
Carr currently has plans to work as a tile setter. She attributes the Green-Wood program for giving her the skills to make that dream a reality.
“I live in a brick house, so I’m going to tell my landlord to let me fix up some bricks,” Carr said. “The program taught me to have a new respect for history and the work that goes into preserving it.”
Photos courtesy of Green-Wood Cemetery