Aaron Perkins, who was trained by HopeWorks programs, is now a maintenance technician for Housing Hope. Here he waves at one of the children in the Tomorrow’s Hope day care in Everett while replacing outdoor light fixtures. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Aaron Perkins, who was trained by HopeWorks programs, is now a maintenance technician for Housing Hope. Here he waves at one of the children in the Tomorrow’s Hope day care in Everett while replacing outdoor light fixtures. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

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As HopeWorks turns 10, a worker shares his success story

Once homeless, Aaron Perkins found housing, skills and a way out of poverty through the agency’s training.

Everyone has a history. For Aaron Perkins, it’s a past that includes troubled times and homelessness. He was helped to move beyond that life by HopeWorks, a nonprofit now celebrating its 10-year history of fostering living-wage careers.

Perkins, 33, now lives in Marysville with his wife, Courtney, and five daughters. He works full-time as a maintenance technician with Housing Hope. And he’s been part of the HopeWorks story since its start.

An affiliate of Housing Hope, HopeWorks Social Enterprises runs businesses aimed at providing jobs and training for those experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless. Through HopeWorks, a trainee is served by much more than a roof over their head. Skills and self-sufficiency are the real gifts.

HopeWorks now operates three Everett-based businesses: Kindred Kitchen, a cafe at the HopeWorks Station housing complex on Broadway; Ground Works Landscaping, with clients that include Housing Hope properties around Snohomish County; and Renew Home & Decor, a retail consignment store near HopeWorks Station.

Aaron Perkins works on outdoor light fixtures at Tomorrow’s Hope Child Development Center in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Aaron Perkins works on outdoor light fixtures at Tomorrow’s Hope Child Development Center in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

It was January 2011 when Ed Petersen, then Housing Hope’s executive director, announced the launch of a separate nonprofit corporation. With Petersen among the founders, Housing Hope was created in 1987 to meet a critical need — for housing. HopeWorks was started 10 years ago to provide work.

“We’re creating new businesses,” Petersen said in a Herald article published Jan. 7, 2011. HopeWorks, he said, “is an incubator, a whole new employment entity.”

Perkins is an example of how that vision has grown, turning lives around and helping people transition out of poverty.

One of 191 people who have successfully completed HopeWorks training programs over the past 10 years, Perkins said he was just 8 when he was placed in foster care. At 11, he and his three brothers were adopted into a large family. He recalled sneaking out at night to flee what he saw as chaos in a household of 13 children.

By 17, he had landed in legal trouble. No longer living with the family that had adopted him, Perkins was homeless for five years, until he was 22.

“At one point, it was day to day, just trying to survive,” he said.

With his girlfriend pregnant, the young couple were able to get into Crossroads, an emergency shelter operated by Housing Hope in Everett. Soon, with the help of the agency’s services staff, he joined YouthBuild. Part of HopeWorks, that program offered him construction experience through Housing Hope’s sweat-equity home ownership program.

As a participant, Perkins said, “I got my GED and earned 22 credits at Edmonds Community College.” He became one of the first people in Snohomish County to finish the 10-month program that combined job skills and education.

Children watch from a window as Aaron Perkins looks for screws in his toolbox. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Children watch from a window as Aaron Perkins looks for screws in his toolbox. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

With that program completed and with the stability of housing, Perkins transitioned into a traineeship with Ground Works, the landscape business. Without a car, he rode a bike to each job. As his reputation for reliability grew. He was given more training, responsibility, advancement and pay.

Brea Armbruster, Housing Hope’s marketing manager, said Perkins took full advantage of the training and hands-on experience offered by Ground Works. For the three businesses, the training program has a 63% completion rate. Perkins went on to become a full-time employee with Housing Hope.

Along with expertise related to jobs — whether in construction, culinary or retail — trainees focus on “soft skills” such as time management, financial planning and healthy habits, Armbruster said.

Today, she said, between 28 and 38 people are employed by HopeWorks businesses. Although Perkins has spent a decade with the agency, Armbruster said, many have gone on to other employers. That may happen for Perkins, as well.

“Eventually, I would like to try to go back to school, either in electrical or mechanical engineering,” he said.

Perkins said HopeWorks and the staff he’s worked with over 10 years “have given me hope, even when I couldn’t see it or feel it.”

“They gave me chances when no one else would,” he said in a statement marking the HopeWorks anniversary.

As a father of five — his girls range in age from 3 months to 12 years old — Perkins said he and his wife hope their daughters take their advice and embrace opportunities in school and in life.

He has a similar message as HopeWorks turns 10.

“What I really want is for people to take advantage of it — what it’s for. I actually wanted a job,” he said.

Julie Muhlstein: jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com

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