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Arena project giving Sacramentans a pathway to employment

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For some, the new downtown Sacramento arena will serve as the home of the Kings and a venue for entertainment. For others, it is already serving as a catalyst for a new personal future.

Photo by Blake Ellington

Brandon Gallow wasn't surrounded by the best influences growing up in an economically depressed neighborhood of Sacramento's Oak Park. Reflecting on his childhood, he recalls watching many of his friends' parents do drugs and few of the adults around him going to work.

He admits being engulfed in dysfunction and having little structure in his life. But Gallow, who is one of five siblings, never used this as an excuse to not work hard.

Following high school, he worked several dead-end jobs - in a warehouse, detailing cars and at a moving company. As time went on, he had a daughter and so did his older brother. The two brothers knew they had to make the next step in their lives and find a career to support their families. They got involved in the Northern California Construction Training program, a pre-apprenticeship program that teaches and mentors students enabling them to transition to careers in construction. The brothers were excelling and their instructor appreciated their work so much that he got them an interview with a contractor. It was around this time, according to Gallow, when his brother was driving along Folsom Boulevard and a man approached his car. He wanted to rob him.

He was shot eight times, according to Gallow, leaving him in critical condition. His brother ended up being paralyzed from the waist down.

"It had a traumatic effect on the family ... he is a single dad," Gallow said. "I thought about him, thought about his child, of course. It was definitely an eye-opening moment."

Gallow, now 31, took his brother's daughter into his household to care for her during this trying time. The need for him to succeed in the construction industry was never greater. That is when he found out about the Priority Apprentice Program, designed to recruit, train and deploy at least 70 apprentices from high-need backgrounds and neighborhoods in the construction of the new downtown Sacramento arena, which is expected to be open by fall 2016. The program is a collaboration of several local organizations, including the Sacramento Kings, Turner Construction, the Sacramento-Sierra Building Trades, the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency, the city of Sacramento and the Community Workforce Pipeline member organizations: the Greater Sacramento Urban League, Sacramento Area Congregations Together, the Center for Employment Training , Asian Resource Center and La Familia. The program was established for residents of the city of Sacramento who fit a variety of criteria - from low-income to those living on food stamps to being homeless.

Gallow went to the local plumbers union, took the required mathematical and drug tests and shortly thereafter he was accepted, putting himself on a pathway to employment and continuing to blaze the trail he and his brother had set out on.

"The rest was history, I found myself on the Kings project," Gallow said with excitement in his voice.

In late February, Gallow began to do plumbing work on the downtown arena, including prefabrication and making sure the drains are functioning properly underground. Now that the practice facility has begun to rise from the ground, he has been putting cast iron in that structure.

"Being a Sacramentan, I remember the glory days of Chris Weber, Vlade Divac, Mike Bibby, Bobby Jackson - that team - cheering for them when they made the playoffs," Gallow said. "I wanted the arena to happen; found out it was going to happen; didn't know I was going to get on the project; but when they told me I was able to work to work on the project I was just in awe. I can do something that is not only going to benefit all Sacramento because of the impact it will have on the economy, but it is something I take pride in. I like basketball, I love the trade, it just was huge."

The community fought with everything it had in recent years to keep the Kings in town and build a new arena, and these are the stories of those who are getting the opportunity to not only do the heavy lifting to set Sacramento on a new course, but are also using it as an opportunity to improve their own trajectory in life.

Ricky Wilson, 47, like Gallow, has a sense of pride in the fact that he is helping build the new home for the Kings and other entertainment events for the Sacramento region. Wilson grew up in Del Paso Heights and attended Grant High School. The arena construction site sits exactly where he used eat donuts as a child along K Street - a fond memory that he finds ironic. Bouncing from temp job to temp job throughout his professional life, Wilson's employment has never been reliable and often not specific to one trade.

Recently, he had been out of work for nearly five months and was having no luck as "doors were not opening." It left him questioning whether Sacramento was the right place for him and his wife to live.

"I was about ready to push out of state and look for work," Wilson said.

But his wife kept pushing him to continue looking and to not give up. Eventually, he connected with the Greater Urban League of Sacramento and found out about the Priority Apprenticeship Program. After preliminary training, he landed a full-time job with Schuff Steel and is now doing safety work at the arena site - setting up torches for the welders and making sure no sparks start a fire, among other duties.

This week at the arena site, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection rough-in work is taking place. In addition, installation of the metal deck for the arena and practice facility is happening.

Wilson is appreciative of this opportunity and knows he is on the right path.

"Individuals from where I am from, Del Paso Heights, they go down a path ... one of the best things you can do is pursue a career you enjoy and don't give up to street life," Wilson said. "My thing has always been if you give any man or woman a chance to provide for their family regardless of where they come from, I think they'll actually go about doing it the correct way. I think a lot of people do things out of necessity because they don't have the proper tools or the right doors aren't open for them to give them that opportunity to do things correct."

Not only will Wilson and Gallow now have steady work, both will be attending trade school as part of the Priority Apprentice Program. Gallow's long-term goal is to become a journeyman after his training is complete. He hopes to work on many more projects downtown to help "build some of the Sacramento skyline." Wilson aims to become a safety supervisor on projects, making sure jobsites are Occupational Safety and Health Administration- (OSHA) compliant.

The arena project as a whole is expected to provide approximately 11,000 construction jobs and 4,000 permanent jobs in the Sacramento area.

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive expressed appreciation for Sacramento residents like Gallow and Wilson who are getting an opportunity to put their life on the right path and have an impact in their communities.

"It's great to see all of these hard-working men and women lay the foundation for the city's future. The first game at the ESC [entertainment and sports complex] will be dedicated to the construction workers to thank them for building the world's best arena," Ranadive told Sactown Royalty in an email. "It's important to me that they understand the level of appreciation that we - the team, the city, the fans, and I - have for their hard work on this project."

Hard at work on the arena every day, Gallow makes time to check in on his brother regularly, who remains interested in hearing about the project.

"He actually will say ‘what are you doing, what's going on with the project?' And then he will throw in little tidbits about what he knows about plumbing ... he's like, ‘man, I would have been right there working side by side with you,'" said Gallow, who hopes to bring his brother down to the arena site at some point with a hard hat and a vest.

Until then, he is proud to represent his brother and many more who are seeking an opportunity in life.

"I feel honored and privileged to not only represent my family and brother, but represent those who wished they could have a chance or opportunity to change their lives; to be able to help their family in one way or another financially," he said.