Alexander Ruiz

We have many employers who are waiting for you to finish this class. Be on time, pay attention, and you will learn what we have laid out for you.

With those words, Betty Bernal, the Rhode Island Builders Association’s Latino outreach coordinator, welcomed 24 students to the Vocational English as a Second Language (VESL) Basic Carpentry class last November 2.

Fast-forward to January, and the continued success of the program is vividly illustrated by the accomplishments of enthusiastic students like Alexander Ruiz, who started with the class that began in November.

Alex is now an entry-level carpenter with Grenier Construction Co., Inc., based in North Kingstown.

In a way, I was working in simple carpentry already, helping build sets for several theaters. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the theatres closed. In fact, the entertainment industry lost $30 billion last year,” said Alex, a Providence native and the son of Guatemalan immigrants who came to Rhode Island in the 1970s.

So I was handy with carpentry and really enjoy the work, but now what I’d been doing was either non-existent or hadn’t bounced back. So, I needed to find something, but it was very hard to find anything, he recalled.

Then his mom heard about the VESL program.

I heard from my mom that there was a great program through the Dorcas Institute. The basic carpentry class was about to start (last fall), and they helped you find jobs, said Alex.

He got on the phone and spoke with RIBA Latino Outreach Coordinator Betty Bernal.

Betty told me the specifics about the program, and what they were going to do. I also found out that I could get my OSHA-10 card through this program.

Alex said: Sign me up, please!

Alex was one of the eager applicants we had for the current VESL program, Ms Bernal said. When I interview him, he expressed his desire and commitment to participate. He saw in the opportunity where we can grow.

He contacted me again when he was accepted to the job we referred him. He is one of the students who always signs in before class starts, and as instructor Chen Chorrk mentioned to the class, with his active participation, attendance and by following up on activities an assignments, he and all others in the class are are the living proof that our VESL program is producing a well-prepared and committed workforce for the residential construction Industry.

Alex loved the VESL classes.

Since I had some experience already, some of the course was a bit easier for me. But at the same time, there were a lot of things I did learn. And there were many things I thought I knew, then realized I didn’t know them that well. Through VESL, I brushed up on all my math, too.

In mid-January, as the vESL course was still under way, Alex got a call from Garett Grenier of Grenier Construction. Was Alex looking for work?

I said absolutely! And Garrett is now my supervisor.

The work at Grenier is varied, Alex is using his skills and learning more, and he’s loving it. He’s using his strong work ethic too.

Get it right! It’s like, do it again if you have to, but make sure it’s right.

Alex has his eye firmly fixed on the future, and possibly a supervisory position.

I’m excited to see where I can go in this epic venture!

VESL is a 15-week, 150-hour course funded by grants from Real Jobs Rhode Island, free of charge to students and employers.

Administered by Ms. Bernal and RIBA Director of Workforce Programs Cheryl Boyd, the programs boast instructors like Julius Dover and Brian Hull of the Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island, and Construction Manager Chen Chorrk.

Currently, classes are taking place via live teleconference until COVID-19 restrictions on live events are eased.

To learn more about RIBA’s trade training, contact Elise Geddes, (401) 500 9146 or, or register online at

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