Where are they now? – Catching up with 2011 Corpsmember of the Year, De’Andre Alexander
Submitted by Hannah Traverse on Tue, 11/06/2012 - 15:48
De'Andre Alexander, a former member of Operation Fresh Start, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2011 for his commitment to service and self improvement. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about De'Andre and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2011 national conference.
De'Andre Alexander, a 2011 Corpsmember of the Year, currently apprentices as an ironworker. After he finishes the 4-year apprenticeship, he wants to take night classes and hopefully earn his bachelor’s degree. He dreams of becoming a firefighter or perhaps working with Operation Fresh Start, the Corps that helped him get back on his feet. As De’Andre says, his life would be very different today had he not found Operation Fresh Start.
“I would probably be working at a restaurant or be in some job that doesn’t have a lot of benefits and I wouldn’t get paid as well as I do now,” said De’Andre. “I wouldn’t say I would be as immature as I was [before], but I’m sure I wouldn’t be as mature as I am now. I definitely wouldn’t have the skills I have now. I’m sure without Operation Fresh Start I would be nowhere.”
De’Andre, who is now 22 years old, joined Operation Fresh Start in June 2009. He had recently been released from jail for an armed robbery he committed in 2007. With a felony on his record, De’Andre found it very difficult to find a job. Operation Fresh Start gave him a chance. While in the program, De’Andre gained carpentry skills, learned how to be a reliable employee, and completed a few college credits. Most importantly, he learned how to manage his anger.
“Not only did they teach me carpentry, but they taught me how to work. They taught me how to act in a workplace,” said De’Andre. “At the time I was still a kid. If I hadn’t gone to Operation Fresh Start I probably would’ve gotten a job, and who knows? I could’ve gotten fired just because I didn’t have that work ethic in me yet. Doing carpentry definitely made me tough as I am now as far as being a hard worker and willing to take on tasks.”
De’Andre says that what made the Operation Fresh Start program such a good fit for him was the caring staff. He feels that many of his teachers in high school were not invested in the students or didn’t push him hard enough. At Operation Fresh Start, De’Andre was motivated by being surrounded by supervisors and instructors who were attentive and obviously passionate about their work.
De’Andre says that Operation Fresh Start helped him become a calmer, more accepting person. Counselors at OFS taught him ways to control his actions and his words, and working in a crew with his fellow Corpsmembers helped De'Andre learn important teamwork skills.
“One thing I learned at Operation Fresh Start was that you have to learn how to work with all types of people,” said De’Andre. “If your coworker is different from you, you can’t change them. You have to learn how to work with them. Working at Operation Fresh Start there were a lot of guys I wouldn’t even have hung out with in high school. Working on the crew I learned that it doesn’t matter who they are. You need to make the best of it and learn more about them. That’s what’s going to make the world an easier place.”
These days De’Andre takes pride in the things he helps build as an ironworker. He says he knows he’ll produce his best work possible if he thinks of his projects as his own buildings. Though De’Andre enjoys his apprenticeship, he sometimes misses carpentry. He continues to volunteer with construction crews at Operation Fresh Start whenever he can. When his schedule permitted, he spent entire days volunteering with OFS. He says he loves getting to meet the new Corpsmembers and offer them advice.
De’Andre’s younger brother is currently enrolled in Operation Fresh Start. He says his brother also sometimes struggles with anger management issues. At one point his brother dropped out of the program. As De’Andre said:
“He didn’t want to go back, but I told him, ‘You got to go back. Without Operation Fresh Start you’re not going to learn the skills you need to survive in the real world.’ And then he decided to go back and I just told him to stay tough, do what your supervisors tell you and keep your head on your shoulders. It’s definitely worth it.”