Gene Grisby Embraced the Challenge and Unique Opportunity Offered by Westside Works
Gene Grisby is new to the Atlanta stadium construction site, and to the work of concrete pouring to which he’s been assigned. But considering his life experiences and eagerness for new challenges, it’s likely he’ll catch on with no problem.
A veteran of the U.S. Army’s vaunted 11 Bravo Infantry, with combat experience in Operation Desert Storm, Grisby, 53, previously worked for United Way as a peer specialist helping homeless veterans. He would visit veterans in shelters and on streets throughout Atlanta, connect them with case managers, help them find housing and generally try to get them back on their feet.
When grant funding ran out, Grisby had to find a new job. He had just begun work for a trucking company near Moreland Avenue when a colleague told him about the Rev. Howard Beckham and a new job skills program called Westside Works.
Beckham leads Integrity Transformations Community Development Corporation (Integrity CDC) and helps recruit prospective students to Westside Works. Grisby is a lay minister, and the two men connected over their mutual faith and desire to help people.
“When he told me about Westside Works and how he was trying to reach out to the community, I realized I could be part of something really big,” Grisby recalls. “I thought, ‘Why not be part of history?’”
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Grisby lives in the Riverside community, a few miles northwest of the stadium site. He graduated with Westside Works’ first class in July 2014, initially took a painting job at another site, then was hired by Holder, Hunt, Russell, Moody (HHRM) at the stadium in November.
He was intrigued by the challenge of going back to school, albeit in a condensed and intensified format. Westside Works puts students through a rigorous course of classroom and hands-on learning from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, for four weeks. High standards are held for punctuality, dress and other professional expectations.
A battery of tests, which Grisby excelled on, adds to the challenge. Graduates leave the program with national and industry-recognized credentials including the National Center for Construction Education (NCCER) Core, OSHA10-Hour Certification and CPR/First Aid Certification.
“It’s almost like [military] basic training,” Grisby says. “I think a lot of people will feel like they’re too old in life to do certain things, but I didn’t feel that way. I’m always looking for a challenge and this was a big one for me, especially getting my mind refocused and back in the mode of studying again, when I haven’t been to college in many years.”
As a rookie on the stadium site, Grisby is thankful for Westside Works and those certifications he took away from it. “You’re marketable when you leave this program and come on a construction site, versus some guy coming in off the street,” he says.
Now, as he continues to learn the ins and outs of concrete, he looks forward to the day when he can point out his handiwork to his three adult children and three grandchildren.
“Yes, when this stadium is done, I’ll be able to look at certain parts and say, ‘I remember that spot. I know exactly where that’s at. It may be all covered up, but I know I was here when they did it.”