Jonathan Perez likes to build things, but his biggest project is himself.
Perez, 35, found his way to Building Skills New York (BSNY) a little over a year and a half ago through Bronxworks’ Strong Fathers, Stronger Families program. He had enrolled to improve his relationship with his only daughter, which, he said, was strained when he “went away.”
It was through a job fair hosted by Bronxworks that Perez met Tatanisia Lumley, BSNY’s Manager of Training and Operations. It was a fortuitous connection.
“I didn’t want to sit with anyone else because only construction was convenient for me,” Perez recalled. “I spoke to her, and they’ve been there for me ever since. Anything I need, they’ve been there.”
Perez’s career started to take off while he was working as a plumber and junior mechanic on Brookfield Properties’ Bankside project, a $950 million, 4.3-acre mixed-use development along the waterfront in the Mott Haven neighborhood. He’s now working with a Fire Sprinkler company on Brooklyn’s tallest skyscraper. He’s also enrolled in a joint training program that BSNY is running with Bronx Community College, and his eye is solidly on the future.
“This is not my last step, this is the beginning,” said Perez, a Bronx resident who was born in East Harlem. A self-described “people person”, he strives to make himself indispensable on a jobsite, learning and communicating with as many of his colleagues as he can.
Perez was a carpenter for five years before he got out and made the transition to plumbing, which taught him “how to be neat and how to be precise with my work.” Overall, construction has brought discipline to his life, Perez said, because there is “no room for error.”
“It’s challenging, but something I really want to do,” he explained. “I wanted to change my life completely, and I became fascinated with the word ‘mechanic’ and everything that comes with it.”
Perez recalls working with a mechanic who gave him a new perspective on the industry by telling him that plumbing is a “noble” profession.
“He said, ‘People need water; everything needs water – churches, hospitals, everything,’” Perez said. “I took those words and ran with them.”
Working full time while also taking classes is “challenging,” Perez said, but he considers the effort a “sacrifice for the better.” And he has his eye on the prize – the dream of perhaps going into business for himself one day, combining his multiple skills of carpentry, tiling, plumbing, painting and more into a kind of one-stop-shop for customers seeking renovation work.
“I want a piece of the pie,” he said. “And I know I’m going to get it…I’ve changed the way I am, and I’ve got a lot of support. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.”