Pastor Norma J. Patterson

PastorNormaPattersonPastor Norma Jean Patterson grew up in East St. Louis, attended the local college and became a secondary teacher and administrator for St. Louis Public Schools. After twenty-five years, she got a calling to ministry in 2002. Since then, she has provided guidance for her community members, shared the Gospel and served the people of Good Shepherd of Faith United Church of Christ. Meanwhile, Pastor Patterson serves as an incredible advocate and community organizer for East St. Louis. She’s a leader in her community and serves as a symbol of change and hope by using the expansion of public transit to lift the East St. Louis community out of poverty.

Khanthaly Ditthiait

KhantalyKhanthaly Ditthiait is a 26-year old mom of two, who works as a bus painter at the New Flyer Industries factory in St. Cloud, Minnesota.  Khanthaly was born and raised in St. Cloud.   Her parents are immigrants from Laos, and her father works as an assembly technician at the New Flyer facility.

In 2006, when Khanthaly was 18 years old, her father said, “if you’re not going to college, I would rather you get the best wage, if you’re going to work a factory job.” At that time, Khanthaly was hired as a painters assistant.

Brenda and Jeff Schroeder

Brenda_JeffBrenda and Jeff Schroeder are married couple who both work at the factory of Canadian-based bus manufacturer New Flyer Industries in St. Cloud, MN.

Jeff grew up in the small town of Willmar, MN, and Brenda was born in Guatemala and lived in California before moving to Marshall, MN.  The couple has found happiness in each other, in St. Cloud, in their union, Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 7304, and in their jobs at New Flyer.  “We wanted to buy a house and we wanted to buy it at a place where we had more job opportunities.”

Farah Musa

FarahFarah Musa is a 43 year old worker at a St. Cloud, MN factory of New Flyer Industries bus factory, and member of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 7304.

Farah’s path to New Flyer was a difficult one.  He was born in Somalia, and fled the war-torn country as a young man. He then spent years in Yemen in a refugee camp, and waited to be granted immigration status by the United States for almost four years.  In October 2000, he came by himself to Minnesota and began a new life.

Renee Brand

ReneeRenee Brand is the Vice President of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 7304 in Minnesota.  Together with Local 7304 President John Desm, Renee organizes her coworkers who manufacture buses for the Canadian-based company New Flyer Industries in a bright and orderly factory on the edge of St. Cloud, MN.

Renee is proud of her factory, which produces 4 completed buses per day for far-flung cities like Baltimore, Calgary and Los Angeles.  She enjoys her job as a bus painter, saying, “I don’t like sitting at a desk, I’d have a real hard time with that.”

Amy Valderas.jpgAmy Valderas

Amy Valderas is a single mother of three children, including a special needs child, who has worked at Cascade Engineering in Grand Rapids, MI for the past 14 years.  The company manufactures injection modular molded plastic, two wheeled residential refuse, recycling collection carts and recycling bins.

Prior to working at Cascade Engineering, Valderas says, “I was a full-time mom – I never worked before. My son was born with cerebral palsy.”  Through her participation in Cascade Engineering’s nationally-recognized ‘welfare-to-career’ program, Amy is able to support and care for her children without public assistance.

Photo Credit: Dustin Dwyer, Michigan Radio 

Julio Martinez

Julio Martinez is a plant manager for Kay Manufacturing in Calumet City, IL, outside of Chicago.   Kay Manufacturing does precision machining, producing parts for the Powertrain division of the automotive industry.   Julio has been an employee there for years, and has 18 years of experience in manufacturing in different facets.  He graduated from college on the East Coast with engineering and accounting and finance, and got his first job as a Plant-Manager-in-Training in Michigan. From there, Julio says, “I worked my way up, from production supervisor, quality engineer, logistics manager, up to operations manager.  I got a chance to see not only the front line but the back room, and understand the entire scope of the manufacturing business, from sales all the way to maintenance and janitorial.”

In recent years, Kay Manufacturing has partnered with Chicago nonprofit Manufacturing Renaissance, which helps for disadvantaged youth and people with criminal records learn manufacturing skills and access steady, middle class-wage manufacturing jobs.   Julio explains his experiences supporting, training, and supervising new employees from Manufacturing Renaissance:

Rahkeem Buford

Rahkeem Buford is a recent graduate of the Austin Polytechnical Academy, a program  preparing high school students for college and career success in manufacturing, engineering, and related fields.  The school is located in Austin, a neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago, IL, where more than twenty percent of residents are unemployed. The program’s goal is to create new wealth in an inner city neighborhood and support the transition to a regenerative economy.

Rahkeem is a 19 year old graduate of the Austin Polytechnical Academy.  As a participant in the program, Rahkeem took classes in introduction to engineering, engineering drafting and took an electrical engineering.  In the electrical class, “that’s when we learned about the CSC machines.”