Steven-Lee Ware Sr. and Steven-Lee Ware Jr. are discussing their work at Mercedes-Benz Stadium when the father suddenly pauses and stares at his son. “Is that my shirt?” he asks, feigning a look of incredulity. Both men roar with laughter, a recognition of just how intertwined their lives are these days.
The Wares are the first father-son duo to graduate from Westside Works. Until recently, they also lived together, and Steven-Lee Jr., aka Steve, still helps out with babysitting chores for his father, a bachelor with twin 6-year-old boys.
The Wares discovered Westside Works through one of its partners, Integrity CDC. To be more precise, it was an on-street encounter between Steven-Lee Sr. and Rev. Howard Beckham, Executive Director of Integrity CDC.
Steven-Lee, 53, had struggled to find steady work after some trouble with the law in the early 2000s. He was working part-time as a voter registration advocate on Atlanta’s Westside when Beckham approached and told him about Westside Works.
“I think I viewed it somewhere between optimism and pessimism,” Steven-Lee recalls after hearing Beckham’s pitch. “I had been in several programs before. I had been told, ‘If you finish, this can happen, that can happen, but nothing ever really materialized. Reverend Beckham said, ‘I know you’ve been down this road before, but I’m telling you, if you complete this program, there is an opportunity for you.’”
Steve also needed work, having recently lost a job in security at a Kroger Warehouse. His father called with the news about Westside Works and the two agreed to apply together. “I told him, ‘This sounds like something that has possibilities,” Steven-Lee says. They went through Construction Group No. 3 together in October 2014.
“I had never been in something with my dad like that, so that was a different experience, seeing him study, and getting to help each other out,” Steve says.
As Steven-Lee tells it, failing the intense four-week training program was not an option for either student. “I’m going to go get it,” he says. “When you see me getting up early in the morning, there’s no way you’re going to say, ‘I don’t feel like doing this today.’ You don’t have a choice.”
Both men’s work ethic has paid off. Inglett & Stubbs Electrical Construction initially “wanted to take us as a team,” Steven-Lee says, but at age 53 he was hoping for more than an apprentice role – something with the potential for quicker advancement. He got it with a staffing agency that supplies labor for Atlanta Stadium Partners, JV (ASP), the general contractor for HVAC and plumbing on the Mercedes-Benz project.
He began by helping renovate a building site that would become ASP’s offices, then moved a few blocks north to the stadium as a cleanup crew supervisor. Now he’s back at the ASP office, serving as Quality Control Administrative Assistant.
Steve Kimberly, QA/QC Site Manager for ASP, says Steven-Lee has proven to be a great asset to the project: “His abilities are such that we have recently asked him to begin more significant tasks, such as receiving the completed test forms from our QA/QC inspectors, formatting the information and then notifying the ASP superintendents and our project partners about the test status. His ability to grasp the importance of the material he uploads is evidenced by him asking pointed questions to ensure the most accurate information is available to the ASP Team.”
Steve Ware did end up accepting the offer from Inglett & Stubbs, and has received two promotions since. Though father and son work for different companies, they still cross paths on the job site; in fact, it was an almost daily occurrence when Steven-Lee was on the cleanup crew.
“It was pretty cool,” says the 30-year-old Steve. “It was another opportunity to work and be around my dad. And it’s been great learning how to work with different people, working with my hands, learning a new trade. It’s something I can take further if I want to.”
Now, nearly two years after that chance meeting with Howard Beckham on a Westside street, did Westside Works live up to its billing?
“Without a doubt,” Steven-Lee Sr. says. “It’s like night and day, the difference between Westside Works and other programs. I can say that I’ve never worked for a company that has given me opportunities like this one has.”