John ChristopherI.U.E.C. Local 8 Elevator Constructors Union
A 41-year member of I.U.E.C. Local 8 Elevator Constructors Union, John Christopher has been devoted to helping youth navigate their futures since 2008. In the wake of the sudden loss of their son, Jonathan Christopher, John and his wife Karen began the nonprofit organization Foundation Twentyone dedicated to helping young people find a path in building trades professions. Last year, the organization reached a milestone when it launched its trades trailer mobile classroom to further outreach and give youth a virtual experience of the trades.
Organized Labor: What have been some successful outcomes of the trades trailer mobile classroom?
Christopher: We’ve taken the trailer to a number of events and everyone has been blown away by it. It’s been all over — up to Santa Rosa, Marin, Sonoma, Lake County. We showcased it at the Trades Introduction Program, our Foundation Twentyone fundraiser and several high school career days. There was an event in Benicia at an Ironworkers class where 650 kids got to experience the trailer and another at the Sheet Metal Workers in Vacaville that drew 850 kids. The biggest highlight for me has been speaking to kids about the trades.
OL: What impact are you hoping the trailer will have over the next five years?
Christopher: Well in the next five years I’m going to retire and that will give me more time to work on promoting the Foundation. The Foundation’s work has been ramping up more than we thought, and I have to take days off from work to do outreach events. Our organization is run completely by volunteers.
My goal is to take the trailer all over the Bay Area and even up to Sacramento to spread the message of Foundation Twentyone that’s rooted in the values of friendship and trust — values very important to Jonathan. I want to duplicate our efforts over the whole region. We’re learning as we go and accepting feedback to make things more useful to young people. I want to help as many kids as I can learn how to approach their journey towards shaping and achieving their career goals.
OL: How can the Building Trades community support the efforts of Foundation TwentyOne?
Christopher: There are a lot of retired individuals in the building trades. I see an opportunity to reach out to these retired workers who want to share their life’s work with the next generation. They’ll be able to use the trailer to pass on knowledge about their individual trade to the kids. We only have one trailer but we may collaborate with the building trades to build another if this takes off.
OL: What motivates you to keep moving forward with your community service work?
Christopher: I’m carrying the spirit of my son within Foundation Twentyone. He was going to get into the Elevator Constructor trade and I was working on getting my contractor’s license. I had told him that once he became a mechanic I would open a shop and we would work together.
I’m also an apprenticeship instructor. When I speak to students representing Foundation Twentyone, I’m able to make a connection. I feel that I have a message and it’s something that they want to hear.