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OPA News Release: [05/10/2011]
Contact Name: Michael Volpe or Evangelina Garcia
Phone Number: (202) 693-3984 or x4661
Release Number: 11-0695-BOS

Job Corps students in Massachusetts create stone awards honoring US Labor Department employees for actions following Upper Big Branch Mine disaster

WASHINGTON — Unique, handcrafted awards honoring the service and dedication of U.S. Department of Labor employees following the Upper Big Branch mining disaster in West Virginia last year were created by students from the Westover Job Corps Center in Chicopee, Mass.

As a tribute to the strength and sacrifice of the 29 courageous men who perished in the 2010 mining disaster, and to recognize the untiring efforts of the Labor Department's first responders and rescue teams, the students made the awards out of Goshen stone found in western Massachusetts and West Virginia, which bears a resemblance in both texture and color to coal.

In a ceremony today, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis presented the awards to 215 Labor Department employees in recognition of their exceptional efforts and outstanding displays of professionalism, teamwork and devotion during the mine rescue, recovery and communications efforts in response to the Upper Big Branch explosion. These employees were the dedicated first responders and mine rescue teams involved in search and recovery efforts, as well as others who sought justice and mine safety improvements so that an accident of that magnitude will never be repeated. The department honored employees from several of its agencies: the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs, the Office of Public Affairs, the Solicitor of Labor and the Office of the Secretary.

"This award symbolizes that the Labor Department's thoughts and prayers are never far from the miners who lost their lives and the loved ones they left behind," Secretary Solis said. "It is also a daily reminder that this department's employees have dedicated themselves to improving mine safety so that every miner, at every mine, after every shift, returns home to his or her family safe and whole."
Job Corps is a program of the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration.

Westover Job Corps Center and the Upper Big Branch Award design

The Employment and Training Administration's Job Corps is the nation's largest career technical training and education program for students ages 16 through 24. The program serves approximately 60,000 young people each year at 124 centers in 48 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Students from the Westover Job Corps Center's brick masonry track came together as a team to brainstorm what the award should look like, be composed of and symbolize. They chose a mica schist type of granite known as Goshen stone, which each miner would have encountered in mining for coal to provide America with energy. The students felt that the hardness of the stone symbolized the determination and resolve of Labor Department employees who worked tirelessly in search and rescue teams, and subsequent legal and regulatory mine safety efforts.

Under the direction of Jason M. Laverty, an International Masonry Institute bricklaying instructor, students used hammers and chisels to cut 2-by-3-foot Goshen stone slabs down into 6-by-6-inch workable chunks. The students then shaped the stones to resemble pieces of coal, and went through eight different polishing techniques so that the stones could be affixed with a Labor Department medallion and a nameplate. No two awards are alike, and each took 2.5 hours to complete.

Biographies of the Westover Job Corps Center Upper Big Branch Award team

Armando Castro, 19, came from a rough neighborhood in Lynn, Mass., where getting into trouble was easy, and achieving success was difficult. Thanks to the inspirational example set by his hardworking single mother, Armando chose to enroll in Job Corps and train in bricklaying. "I really liked the work. I liked being able to create something with my hands, by myself," said Armando. He is honored to be a member of the talented student team selected to create the award.

Erick Garica, 23, of Holyoke, Mass., came to the Westover Job Corps Center seeking a high school diploma and the skills necessary to compete in today's job market. His bricklaying training has opened up his artistic side and allowed him to focus on a potential career because, as he said, "This vocation lets you play and explore as you work." Being among the students who designed the Upper Big Branch Award is special to him.

Justin Bracewell, 17, of Worchester, Mass., is the youngest member of the Upper Big Branch Award team. Justin already knows that once he completes his bricklaying studies, he plans to join a union and make his living in the construction field. Being part of the winning submission was an honor, he said.

Jonathan Oliver, 20, of New Haven, Conn., said that he wants to be a success some day to make his adoptive mother proud. Although his training at the Westover Job Corps Center is in brick masonry, he hopes to go to college and maybe even become an actor. Being part of the winning submission that both honored the fallen miners and paid tribute to dedicated government workers helped open his eyes to the value of hard work because, he said, "Nothing is promised. Each day is a gift."

Daryl Lidwin, 18, of Ludlow, Mass., knew even in high school that he wanted to become a certified bricklayer. "I am learning about a skill that I love, working with staff and students that care about the trade, and I feel good about who I am," at Westover, he said. Daryl said that the Upper Big Branch Award represents coal, the complexity of mining, and an appreciation for those who work in the field and those in government who sought to make it a safer occupation.

Eric Cruz, 21, of Boston, Mass., chose Job Corps and brick masonry training because, "In bricklaying, you have to think about what the design is going to look like before you complete it... You are always using your mind." The design his team submitted, he said, was meant to honor strong people and their land.