Not-So-Extreme Makeover

One of the first initiatives from the newly created GAWDA Foundation is a program designed to improve the appearance and functionality of our local Vo-Tech schools. If you haven’t been to your local Vo-Tech school lately, I encourage you to check out the environment in which our kids are learning about our industry. Most school districts are fighting budget issues. There simply isn’t enough money for basic supplies, much less money to improve the appearance of their classroom and shop. The “Paint A Vo-Tech” program is designed to address these issues, improve the learning environment for kids, and get them excited about a career in our industry. We are asking all GAWDA members to spend a day cleaning up and painting at least one Vo-Tech school of their choice.

Delcastle Technical High School Makeover - Before Delcastle Technical High School Makeover - After

I chose Delcastle Technical High School here in Wilmington, Delaware. Delcastle has been a fixture in the community for many years, and as the host of this year’s state skills competition, it was the ideal candidate for our effort. After a short meeting with Welding and Fabricating Instructor Rob Jones to discuss the program and his potential role in it, I knew this was going to be a great event. The shop was in need of attention and Rob was willing to get the kids involved. I also recognized that a fresh coat of paint was just the beginning of what we could accomplish. We decided to not just paint the weld shop but to really transform the classroom and weld shop into a place the kids could get excited about. We expanded the idea to include new weld curtains, safety posters, educational posters, and a cleaner and more organized work area. We would also talk to the kids about careers in the industry and how to improve their chances of getting a job in this tough economy.

I decided to ask for help from some of our key suppliers to share the workload. This was not to be a self-serving sales opportunity but just a give back to the youth who will be the next generation of workers and leaders in our industry. I didn’t know what to expect but I received more help than I knew what to do with. What a great response from our industry! We had donations of paint, painting supplies, safety posters, safety and educational literature, curtains, safety and cleaning supplies, educational materials and more. Jim Lisiecki from Linde jumped in and offered not only his help but the help of his son Kyle, who attends a local university. Kyle brought eight fraternity brothers, and we now had over 30 kids and adults involved in the project.

Rob Jones had his students well informed about the project, and I was impressed with their willingness to help and with their positive attitude. They jumped right in, grabbed a paint brush, broom, vacuum cleaner and rags and went to work. By lunchtime we had accomplished more than I thought we would all day.

Jim Lisiecki and I led a “Careers in the Welding and Gases Industry” presentation to the kids. We answered their questions and hopefully provided them with some usable advice. Time will tell if these kids have a successful career in our industry, but I left Delcastle feeling good about our effort that day giving them a better chance for success. I’d like to recognize Will Keen, Tom Bruno, Rob Jones and Jim Lisiecki for their special assistance with this project.

April is National Welders Month, and we are using that as a motivator to get these projects on the schedule in April. If you can’t get to it in April, then find any day before the end of the school year. I’d like to be able to announce our success at the SMC in Baltimore. Please consider this project in your community. I promise you will get more back from it than you put into it. One day of your time will make an impression on the kids that will last a lifetime.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association

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Paint A Vo-tech
Bryan Keen Bryan Keen is president of the Gases and Welding Distributors Association. He is also president of Keen Compressed Gas Company in Wilmington, Delaware, and can be reached at or 302-594-4553 ext. 3324.