Perched up on a wooden scaffold in Green-Wood Cemetery, Paul Deceglie is hard at work.
“You really need to pack it tight," says Deceglie. "And then once you packed tight, you can come in and strike it and get a nice uniform line.”
He's one of 14 young future masonries restoring the Phelps Mausoleum, which dates back to the 1850s.
“When we came in today and saw this wall from yesterday. I was like, ‘Wow, these lines held up. We really did a good job.’”
Deceglie is part of the Bridge to Crafts Careers program. It trains students for entry-level positions in masonry restoration, a lucrative occupation. Construction was the fourth highest-paying employment field in the city in 2020. And it appears to be bouncing back from the pandemic. In 2021, the construction industry added more than 11,000 jobs.
“It’s an opportunity to get young folks into the construction trade and to teach them things they might not have known before and give them the opportunity to move forward in the construction trade and that can be a real foothold into the middle class," says Neela Wickremesinghe, who heads up restoration and preservation at Green-Wood. She's been running the Bridge to Crafts Careers program for five years.
She says she takes pride teaching young people to restore longstanding structures like the Phelps Mausoleum.
“Historic buildings make up the fabric of every borough, every neighborhood, every block in our city and we need to be able to thoroughly and thoughtfully restore them to create the type of city that we want to continue to live in,” says Wickremesinghe.
As a lifelong New Yorker, Deceglie says he feels honored to help restore a piece of Brooklyn's history and at the same time turning this passion into a career.
“I’ve had such a great time. I leave and I wish we could stay longer. I’m like happy at work. That’s the best thing, when you’re happy at work.”
The program is presented in partnership with Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow, a social services and workforce development organization in Sunset Park, as well as the International Masonry Institute, Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1 NY, and the World Monuments Fund. Funding comes from the NYS Regional Economic Development Council and others.