Returning to civilian life after six years in the army, Edward Morgan, 27, found himself adrift in his native Dorchester.

“I did random jobs. I was a driver, a chef. They didn’t last too long. I found myself getting in trouble and I couldn’t sustain those jobs,” he said.

When he joined Operation Exit, a career preparation program for at-risk young people, Morgan couldn’t quite believe the second chance opening up for him: A three-week training in the building trades, culminating in placement services for union apprenticeships starting at $19-24 per hour.

It wasn’t until his class visited the unions – for carpenters, ironworkers, laborers, painters, and sheet metal workers – that he saw how his life was about to change.

“That’s when it started setting in,” he said. “It was real.”

That reality was celebrated at a November 9th dinner for the most recent class of Operation Exit, an initiative of Mayor Martin Walsh run by YOU Boston and the Mayor’s Office of Public Safety. The class – all young men of color with some history of court involvement – achieved a 100 percent graduation rate. Of the 19 graduates, 17 have been placed in union apprenticeships.

Robert Kraft, CEO of the New England Patriots, speaks to graduates of Operation Exit.

That success was praised by Robert Kraft, CEO of the New England Patriots, who surprised the graduates by arriving at the Sheet Metal Workers Local Union #17 in Dorchester to speak at the celebration. Kraft, who funded this cycle of Operation Exit, highlighted that two-thirds of the graduates were parents.

“The most important thing to me is family,” Kraft told them. “What you’ll be known by is the values you put in those kids and what they put into your grandkids.”

Boston Police Commissioner William Evans reminded the young men that they could also influence their communities.

“I need you to help us. Help us on the street, help us with the kids out there,” Evans said.

He spoke as someone who had benefited from life-changing help himself.

“I grew up as a city kid. I lost my parents by the time I was 14,” he said. “I had people step up in the community to get me into a good school…that’s why I’m here.”

Mayor Walsh established Operation Exit in 2014. Four previous cycles of the program have focused on the culinary industry, web development, and the building trades. Thus far, 90% of the 49 young people who have graduated from the building trades cycles have been successfully placed in apprenticeships.

At the celebration, Mayor Walsh shared his own history of second chances with the graduates. He said that at his rock-bottom, sitting in detox for alcohol abuse, he thought, “This is not what I envisioned for my life. This is not what I wanted to be.” After making changes, his life journey took him to a high-point many had not thought possible: the moment he was sworn in as mayor of Boston.

Edward Morgan feels a similar ascent in his own life now, working as a laborer on the construction of a Fenway high-rise.

“I take the elevator to the top floor and I can see my whole city,” he said. “I enjoy it. It gives me drive. It pushes me.”

Read the press release to learn more about Operation Exit’s success.

Participants in Operation Exit.
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