THE BUILDER

Steve Skidmore, age 62: “I was one of those kids. If we have the ability to help them, why would you not?”

By Cindy Gonzalez / World-Herald staff writer

Monday, November 23, 2015


It was college information night at his son’s high school.
Steve Skidmore sat through hours of discussion about higher education options, but got stuck on one thought: What about the kids who aren’t college-bound?
His mind drifted back to his own graduation jitters. Where’s the compass, he wondered, for those not cut out for a career predicated on a four-year bachelor’s degree?
That Millard evening in 1994 turned out to be transformational all right — not only for son Eric, who was nudged toward the university route. But also for the father, who bounded down a path that over the next two decades would offer hundreds of local teens construction-related resources designed to connect them with a decent-paying job, even without a college degree.
Skidmore hasn’t been paid a dime, supporters say, for years of coordinating the Builders of the Future mentoring program he founded with the Metro Omaha Builders Association. (Especially early on, he pitched in his own cash to keep things running.)
Neither does his State Farm Insurance business benefit directly from the pipeline of skilled craftsmen the program aims to expand.
When asked why he does it, the Benson High alumnus says: “I was one of those kids.”
“If we have the ability to help them, why would you not?” he says.

Seniors in the Gretna High School vocational building construction class construct a backyard shed as part of the Builders of the Future program, founded by Steve Skidmore with the Metro Omaha Builders Association. Working atop the shed are Jake McMahon, left, and Kyle Morbach; below them, from left, are Matt McMahon, Tyler Kudlacek, Dylan Berube and Justin Hines. KENT SIEVERS/THE WORLD-HERALD

The Thankful Edition
All around you, in towns big and small, people are quietly performing selfless deeds to make our communities stronger. The good life? You bet. Today we’d like you to meet just a few of these everyday heroes.
The Mentor: Rachael Johnson
The Teacher: JJ Ventura
The Coach: Gannie Clark
The Volunteer: Win Finegan

For a guy who preferred to play elaborate pranks in school rather than study algebra, Skidmore has done the math: Twenty years later, he says, about $130,000 in scholarships have been awarded for additional training in industrial arts.
And more than 1,300 young people — on average 100 students a year — have become better builders through the initiative, which pairs participating schools and community partners with a professional mentor.
The program also provides construction materials so teens can engage in more hands-on experience. The capstone project has each group creating, from the ground up, a mini-house or shed.
Donations and mentors from places such as Andersen Windows flowed in only as Skidmore and other supporters beat the pavement seeking support, said Ted Grace of Grace Custom Homes, one of the big drivers behind the program.
It’s not all been smooth sailing.

When the housing market collapsed in 2008, so did Builders of the Future. Skidmore said he didn’t want to fold — “I was angry” — but acknowledged that many industry financial backers were in a slump. They were cutting workers, not hiring.
With the market churning again, Skidmore gladly stepped back when MOBA members asked for help reviving the program. He does it while running his own business.
“He takes such a personal interest, and doesn’t let go of it,” said Barry Larson, a retired general contractor. “He’s like a dog with an old bone.”
Grace said he and fellow builders hope the program helps to re-energize the short supply of skilled labor that worsened during the Great Recession.
This year, he said, support is better than ever. The nonprofit Builder Foundation run by MOBA and industry leaders will contribute up to $70,000 in materials and scholarships, said Larson, also the foundation’s executive director.
Skidmore recruited, and the foundation will cover, the salary of the program’s first paid facilitator, Kirk Skiles, a retired industrial technology teacher. The new post reflects the program’s maturity, and the intention to take it into more schools and “to the next level.”

“He takes such a personal interest, and doesn’t let go of it,” Barry Larson, a retired general contractor, said of Skidmore. “He’s like a dog with an old bone.” KENT SIEVERS/THE WORLD-HERALD

Skiles stressed that the program enhances classroom instruction already provided by traditional schoolteachers. The bonus comes, he said, as students connect with professional mentors — who have real­-world tips and jobs waiting.
This year, more than a dozen homebuilding professionals are volunteering to mentor the latest batch of participants: nine schools, a Goodwill Youthbuild group and a Metropolitan Community College class.
Skidmore kicks off each year with a visit to each school, and recently caught up with the Gretna High School vocational building construction class.
His adrenaline pumps when mingling with the next generation of builders. A self-described risk-taker — he loves rock crawling on four-wheelers — Skidmore likes to see the “light go on” when a kid who fidgets in math class easily figures the correct angle for a shed piece.
If a teen is eager to learn and work outdoors, Skidmore tells them: “I can get you a job that pays $18 an hour.”

Top to bottom: Measurements etched on a pine board; McMahon at work on the rafters; and a box of screws. KENT SIEVERS/THE WORLD-HERALD

Skidmore, who washed and sold cars before owning his own insurance business, explains that an entry-level framer or masonry job builds confidence and experience and can lead to more.
It’s not that he’s advising against college; his own two sons went. But if not, there’s an alternative: “Start as a carpenter. End up a Ted Grace (who owns a building company) or an insurance executive,” he said.
Dylan Berube, 17, said it’s the hands-on work that makes the class worthwhile. “It gives us real-world experience as opposed to being stuck at a desk,” said the senior who has enlisted in the U.S. Marines to work on aircraft mechanics.
Teacher Jason Novotny said the financial boost from Builders of the Future comes in handy, as not all schools have what can add up to $5,000 to build the type of playhouse constructed as part of the program.
After the class designs and constructs its mini-house project, it will market and sell the structure. Skidmore recommends the class use the proceeds to enhance the school’s shop program.
Previous participants have produced playhouses in the image of a firehouse and a log cabin. One looked like Mother Goose’s “Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe” house.
On a different school visit, Skidmore, 62, glowed at a framed photo of a playhouse created by a class he mentored: a replica of a 1950s Sinclair service station.
Nothing beats the feeling of running into a former student, though, he said.
It happened recently when Skidmore helped his son pick up a refrigerator he bought through Craigslist. They didn’t know the seller’s identity, until Skidmore recognized her: Leslie Reimer from Bellevue East’s Class of 1995.
“He gave me a big hug,” Reimer said, and fussed over her being one of the first scholarship recipients.
Now 38, Reimer recalled being the only girl in her four years of shop classes. To this day, she has a wood shop in her garage, and has used her construction know-how to flip three houses.
Although Reimer went on to be a business coach, she said the career calls for teamwork, design and project management skills. They’re many of the same, she said, she honed while learning construction. What Reimer said she mostly gained from mentors like Skidmore, and the scholarships they offered, was confidence.
“It’s that intangible power of having somebody believe in you that really didn’t need to believe in you,” she said.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1224, cindy.gonzalez@owh.com

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