A Change of Attitude Helped Derrick Woods Take Control of His Life and Embark on a New Career
Growing up in a single-parent household, Derrick Woods loved his mother. At the same time, he lamented “not having a father as a role model,” he recalls. So he’s making sure the youngsters in his family today have at least one male figure they can look up to.
“I’ll take my nieces and nephews for a ride through Atlanta and say, ‘Look, I helped build that building,’ and they get so excited,” says Derrick, a Carpenter Apprentice with Anning-Johnson Company. “I’m the uncle, I’m the father, I’m the friend – whatever they need me to be.”
At age 41, Derrick offers plenty of life lessons for others to learn from. As a teenager, he fell into street life, which led to trouble with the law and ultimately a lengthy prison sentence. And his problems continued while behind bars. “In prison, you’re around a bunch of negative people,” he says. “So I just got in more trouble.”
Gradually, however, Derrick began to take control of his life. He began reading books about how to better himself. He lost his mother and determined to honor her memory by the way he lived. In short, he decided he would make the most of his future.
“It just came to me, like, ‘You can make up your own mind. You don’t have to do what that guy next to you is doing,’” he says. “Once I decided to go forward, the thought of being turned down for a job never crossed my mind. I was just focused on getting out of prison.”
On April 27, 2016 – 20 years after going in and one day after his 39th birthday – Derrick was released. “Everybody wanted to celebrate my birthday, but I was more interested in celebrating the next day,” he recalls. “When I got out on the 27th of April, it was the best present I ever received.”
The next step was to start building a career. He learned about CEFGA’s Construction Ready at Westside Works and decided to give it a try. “Not many times does someone offer you something and not ask for something in return,” he says of the free four-week training curriculum. Construction Ready … offered me a chance to be better.”
During his Construction Ready training, Derrick learned about the possibilities for additional training and advancement Anning-Johnson offered its employees. When the company offered him a job, he eagerly accepted.
“Derrick has gotten great reviews from all the people he has worked with,” says A-J Operations Administrator Edwin Parra. “He’ll be graduating from our training program in December  and making close to nineteen dollars per hour, and will be a professional skilled tradesman.
“We gave Derrick the opportunity, despite his record, despite his past,” Parra continues. “He’s extremely driven and focused on not going back to that lifestyle. He works eight to ten hours a day, and when he gets off work, if there’s a class, he’s there. He’s very aware of the challenges and obstacles that surround him. He has a son, nieces, nephews, siblings, and where none of them ever had the opportunity to grow up and see a family member with a trade and a career, now they’re seeing that.”
While Derrick’s day-to-day work is based on the use of his hands, it’s his brain that he credits for his extraordinary turnaround. “Once I decided up here that I was going to change,” he says, tapping his forehead, “doors started to open.”
Adds Parra: “Having a focused state of mind and being self-driven is huge. Another very important factor has been the Construction Ready program. And the other important factor is an employer who is willing to invest in people and continue to help build them up and push them in the right direction. You can see the results in a lot of the graduates we’ve hired from Construction Ready.
“When we give individuals like Derrick a chance, and they succeed, it ultimately affects our entire society and generations to come.”
VIDEO: Anning-Johnson Company’s Derrick Woods discusses the remarkable opportunity CEFGA gave him through Construction Ready training. Hear from more Construction Ready graduates on our YouTube channel.