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Tool Donation Benefits Competing RHS Students
There were several people in attendance at Riverbank High School for a presentation on Jan. 14 to support and celebrate tools donated by the Valley Builders Exchange, Inc. for the students. VIRGINIA STILL/THE NEWS

The Valley Builders Exchange, Inc. (VBE) donated buckets with some basic tools and a tool belt for Riverbank High School (RHS) students on Thursday, Jan. 14. The tool delivery was held in the morning on RHS campus to support those students participating in upcoming competitions.

“As you know we are seeing a huge decline in the trades as well as a shortage of skilled workers, VBE is doing our best to support and invest in our youth,” stated VBE Executive Director Christine Schweininger. “We are here to encourage those kids that are thinking that maybe it is not for me right now to go to a four year but to have a trade and get paid well. All this construction cannot be done without our trade.”

A few years ago Building and Construction Instructor Cory Casteel contacted VBE and most recently began working with Schweininger in March last year. During a Zoom meeting between the two along with Adelante High School Principal Ed Vaca, the lack of tools and materials for the students working remotely was discussed.

“I am very excited to have tool sets I can loan out to students to use at home,” said Casteel. “Some students have some tools at home, but most do not. The tools will go to the students that sign up for the competition as soon as they complete the form online. I plan to start recruiting students this week.”

They shared their concerns with Schweininger that several students that are working from home do not have the basic tools and do not have access to the tools they need.

“We hope that these tools offer the students the opportunity to sign up and prepare them for the competition, noted Schweininger. “We feel programs and competitions like this promote career awareness and hopefully serve as an opportunity to get more students aware of the trades.”

The cool morning with cloud cover was the setting as guests gathered in front of the Bruin sign on the RHS campus for the tool delivery. VBE delivered five Home Depot buckets that had tools inside including a hammer, tape measure, and utility knife along with a tool belt.

There were several guests on hand including Riverbank Mayor Richard O’Brien, Opportunity Stanislaus CEO Dave White, RUSD Superintendent Christine Facella, Assistant Superintendent Richard Tapia, VBE President Kara Leonard, and incoming board President Delwyn Falk.

“We really are working on building our Career Technical Education programs and we are doing it in line with the industrial center down the street from here,” added Facella. “We recognize that not all students want to go to college right out of high school and having them have this opportunity to have the materials they don’t currently have because they are on distance learning is really fantastic. This is a great opportunity; we are very appreciative.”

Mayor O’Brien also addressed the group and highlighted some projects in the works for the city of Riverbank that will offer several job opportunities.

VBE is working with their partners in Sacramento on the upcoming Design ‘N Build Competition where students will build a structure over two days. Due to COVID and the uncertainty of the return to school the students will be working from home, constructing a smaller version of the structure.

“It is great to be here,” said White at the event. “I applaud this. We need vocational technical education and we have kids in our schools who don’t feel like there is opportunity for them here in Stanislaus County and there actually is. One thing we are working on at Opportunity Stanislaus is to build these career pathways and make sure that the public education is connected to industry and workforce and we have a streamlined system.”

While there is hope that students will be able to return to the classroom soon and compete in person at the upcoming competitions, until then the students will compete and continue to learn virtually.

“We know that we our currently seeing a huge decline in skilled labors, we know that skilled trade careers offers the same benefits as many other professions,” expressed Schweininger. “And this is a great way for them to see other future opportunities. Our goal is to grow the program and offer more scholarships.”

There are four RHS students competing in the SkillsUSA Intro to Woodworking competition this month and one competing in the Cabinetry competition that will be held in February. They will all be completing the process from home and will have an interview with judges.

“I think most young people don’t realize it might be a good fit for them,” remarked Casteel. “My next goal for my students and program is to develop partnerships with companies for internships and a pipeline to employment. My dream would be to have a program like the logistics program at Patterson High School, where students know a job is there for them after high school.”

Riverbank Mayor Richard O’Brien took a moment to address the guests at the tool donation event at Riverbank High School last week. VIRGINIA STILL/THE NEWS