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Jordan Boker is an Energy Specialist with CLEAResult—but it’s not the first time she’s held that title. In 2014, Jordan was a Climate Careers Energy Specialist in Stockton. “I thought the fact that they were giving younger people the opportunity was very cool. I had a lot of fun that year,” she recalls. At the time a high school student, Climate Careers was a first job and an educational experience in skills that have carried forward. “You don’t necessarily get along with everyone, but you can usually find something to connect about. Keep an open mind, relax, and take it one step at a time.”
Today, Jordan has a young son and an Associates Degree in Psychology from Cosumnes River College—and she’s happy to be back in Stockton homes, addressing local climate resilience on a grander scale. “I really like outreach because a lot of it is informative. If you don’t know what’s going on, you’re not going to change anything. I don’t think it’s that people don’t want to help, I think it’s that they don’t know how.”
Niki began Women Building the Bay with an interest in carpentry; she had experience building garden beds and enjoyed farming. As a Sales Supervisor for Costco, Niki had the work schedule of her dreams and a decent income—but the work didn’t use her brain. “Half the time I spent at work, I was thinking of other things to do with my life,” she recalls. A friend connected her with Juanita, Rising Sun’s Construction Instructor and Business Liaison, in late 2019, giving Niki the opportunity to prepare her life and bank account to leave her job of twelve years. “Initially, I was approved to take time off,” she shares, but in February 2020, “I ended up diving in and saying, ‘I know I’m not coming back.’”
Two weeks into the program, her jump bore unexpected fruit. Concord Local 342 Plumbers and Pipefitters’ Chuck Leonard visited Women Building the Bay to discuss opportunities with his union, bringing Niki’s expectations into focus. With so many interesting options, “I felt I could move within that Local.”
Two weeks later, movement halted. With Women Building the Bay paused in response to COVID-19, Niki and her peers looked forward to returning to class in “two more weeks, maybe this month, maybe next month. The further it got, the less hope we had. I didn’t know how many of us, honestly, would be left.” She had dropped everything to pursue this opportunity—and now she found herself “pretty disappointed and a little bit angry. I had never not had a job, ever, but to not have one when COVID hit, being on unemployment and the paperwork for food stamps…it was a different life.” She spoke with Juanita often over the hiatus and stayed connected with her cohort and the Rising Sun team, determined to “put everything I have into this and hope that something comes out on the other end.” In many ways, Niki recalls, her group felt special. Most were sad to forego continued hands-on experience for instruction via Zoom in June—Niki in particular had wanted to work more with tools—but “that’s what held us together; the fact that we did have four weeks to get to know each other” and a collective sense of operating outside of normal life. “So many small things happened to get everyone through.”
Together with 25 of her peers, Niki graduated from Women Building the Bay in July. Determined to join a union, she launched into preparations for the sheet metal test—in major part because the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 342, her first choice, weren’t slated to accept applications prior to 2021. The day before Niki’s test, Rising Sun’s Workforce Development Manager sent the cohort an email to announce that the Plumbers and Pipefitters would, unexpectedly, be conducting interviews. Niki attended—and as a member of Local 342, she has yet to look back. Joining a union “definitely has changed my life in a positive way, and going through that process…I am excited to reap the benefits of everything I’ve put into it.” Moreover, as a “queer Black woman of color,” Niki is thrilled “to be a small piece of change happening at this Local.” Her new career has opened up many opportunities, including the possibility of someday owning her own farm—and maybe even an animal rescue.
As a freshman in college, Chun Huang looked forward to studying architecture. When COVID-19 delayed his return to class, Chun joined Rising Sun’s Climate Careers as an Energy Assistant to gain applied experience in sustainability and energy efficiency, acting on his belief that “environmental sustainability and consciousness is extremely important, especially in this lifetime, as climate change and global warming continue to threaten people’s livelihood.”
Despite working remotely, Chun was able to connect with Green House Call clients—and in some ways, his impact was more profound than ever:
“One of the clients I was emotionally touched by was an elderly woman who lived by herself. She admitted that she rarely gets to talk to anyone, especially during the pandemic, and it made me greatly appreciate the friends and family that had kept in touch with me virtually. While pitching our free energy efficiency kits, I learned of her financial predicaments due to the shutdown. Although I wasn’t able to offer much help in that regard, I listened in hopes of sharing her burden as I understood what she is going through living in poverty as a low-income immigrant. At the end, she thanked me for assisting her in scheduling a kit because she would be financially unable to purchase the home fixtures herself.”
Chun realized that his conversations were windows into clients’ lives, opportunities not only to “learn and educate others about energy efficiency and the ways climate can affect all of us,” but also to build community—and envision better communities. “I am more aware of energy consumption and sustainability in terms of architectural design. Having sustainability in mind when designing not only helps alleviate the climate crisis, but also helps make spaces a little more livable and interactive. An understanding of fixtures and shades can help maximize the use of renewable resources while discounting the cost,” he shares.
“I think that my actions do address climate change, however small they may be.”
Sometimes, the hardest doors to open are self-imposed.
Women Building the Bay 2022 graduate Michelle is a mother of two who has been a college student, a surgical dental assistant, and a dog walker. Her husband, who was a union plumber, recently passed, prompting Michelle to enter Women Building the Bay motivated by a determination to show her kids that she could do the work as well as any man. She knew she had made the right decision when she met her classmates.
“They were like a warm hug when I needed it. My cohort pushed me in ways I never could have imagined. That class was full of talented, amazing women who motivated me just by showing up and sharing their struggles. It made me feel less isolated and more like I was working towards something rather than running away from something. The cohort gave me skills that are invaluable and, more importantly, gave me my confidence back.”
In June, Michelle began working as a plumber with the UA Local 342 Plumbers and Steamfitters, and has since begun an apprenticeship. In October, she joined Rising Sun staff at the Tradeswomen Build Nations conference in Las Vegas, connecting with women across the country thriving in union construction careers.
Angie Moreno-Aragon joined Rising Sun for the first time in 2021 on a recommendation from her sister. As an Energy Assistant in Stockton, her summer role was entirely remote—but despite the distance, Angie was able to forge connections. Her work included following up with clients who had received mail order Green House Calls kits, and she found that “hearing about how much they loved it and how it helped, it really clicked how much of an impact the work I did made.”
As summer transitioned into fall, Angie took part in our first series of externships, landing a research opportunity with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “My job was to see how everyday household appliances affected the environment, specifically the air quality,” she shares. Through cooking eggs on a variety of stove tops and pans while monitoring the effects, Angie expanded the lab’s research on the impacts of gas kitchen appliances; she even kept the monitor on out of curiosity when her family prepared meals.
Angie “can say confidently that a gas stove is the worst stove to use when it comes to air quality,” and is glad to have contributed to addressing climate change: “It may not feel like a lot but even a little goes a long way.” Out of everything, “I am most proud of the fact that I was able to put myself out there. Thanks to this job, I have been able to improve my professional skills. I was not very comfortable working since I’d only ever had one real job” before joining Rising Sun. Looking forward, “I want to work in the pastry and baking industry while also entertaining the idea of perhaps going to college instead to study engineering. I am not 100% sure what I want to do with my career, but I know that I’ll be able to thrive.”
As for now? Angie’s back, this time as an in-person Energy Specialist. “I applied again this year because I loved my time with Rising Sun the year prior. The work, the environment, and my coworkers; it all felt very accepting, and I knew it was something that I wanted to be a part of again.”
Juju Ruiz joined the Sheet Metal Workers’ Local Union No. 104 in 2019 after graduating from Opportunity Build’s all-female Women Building the Bay cohort. When we spoke in 2021, she was an apprentice with Bullard’s Heating and Air, Inc., where she installed piecing and ductwork for the new BART headquarters across from Oakland’s Children’s Fairyland. “All the doors Rising Sun and Women Building the Bay opened are crazy,” said Juju. “I felt stuck being a stay-at-home mom and knew I could do something more—I loved the thought of being in construction. I was the most indecisive student, but sheet metal chose me.”
“Opportunity Build is a life changer. It took me 25 years to find something I could engage in, to do something better in my life. Who knows what would have happened if I kept doing what I was doing. Look at me now, I’m going to be a welder. I’ve got a family here. I built something so strong here. I really appreciate this program.”
In 2022, David Wilson participated in Climate Careers and Opportunity Build concurrently—a Rising Sun first. He went on to become one of Rising Sun’s Electrification Externs, researching the feasibility and potential benefits of adopting induction cooktops in Bay Area homes.
Today, David’s studying at San Francisco State and hopes to become a naturalist—he recently interviewed with the Oakland Zoo. He credits Climate Careers with demonstrating that green jobs can encompass more than grassroots, protest work—they can also be about informing people and making the world a better place:
“Some people didn’t understand the bigger picture behind Climate Careers, and when you tell someone about climate change that’s a huge umbrella that warrants more questions. I didn’t mind sitting down with people and telling them more, small steps they could take—and sometimes, they share the information with others.”