Though she’d given it some thought, Dallas Thibodeaux didn’t bite at the idea of studying computer technology because she didn’t want to pursue a four-year degree.
Yet, she wanted an education that would allow her to do something with her life. Then, she remembered that her father had once mentioned something about the skilled trades.
That sparked an interest – in welding.
In the summer of 2016, she went with Lee Nelson, a counselor at Bellwood Transitional Age Program (TAP), for a tour of Triangle Tech, not far by bus from the Pittsburgh Mercy residential program where she’s lived for the last three years.
“I had no idea about welding,” Dallas admits.
Regardless, Dallas entered the 16-month program in October 2016. The first term focused on safety and Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) regulations. Students are not permitted to work in the shop until they pass a safety test, Dallas says.
“We started out on small stuff – cutting metal,” she says.
For safety when welding, Dallas had to have a fire-retardant leather jacket, flame-retardant cap, safety glasses, and a helmet, which cost $240. As she progressed, Dallas learned to use different machines and settings, as well as different types of welding methods. She focused on pipe and structural steel welding.
“I did pipe,” she says, laughing. “So much pipe. It was so much fun.”
Learning the skill took an eye for detail and steady hands. Dallas admits to times where she got frustrated and had to walk away, go outside, and come back for another try.
What made those 16 months even more grueling was the fact that Dallas also worked at Allegheny Health Network Suburban Campus in Bellevue. Because of her job and school, she left Bellwood TAP before 7 a.m. and didn’t return until about 9:30 p.m.
Sadly, her father passed away in October 2017, just months before she graduated from Triangle Tech on February 7, 2018 with an associate degree in Welding and Fabrication Technology.
“I admire her ability to persevere,” says Nelson, who attended the graduation ceremony. “I think her self-esteem has grown.”
The Bellwood TAP staff and residents planned a belated graduation party for Dallas, who wanted to wait for staff member Mya Wade, who was on leave, to return to work. Dallas says it was worth waiting because Wade’s homemade goodies would make the celebration all that much more special.
Dallas is now hunting for a job where she can use her new skills. She says she’d prefer working second or third shift in a small, family-owned company than on a pipeline or skyscraper.
“We are very proud of Dallas,” says Nicole Graff, Bellwood TAP site supervisor, noting that the 21 year old is the type of young adult who can benefit greatly from the TAP program.
“The whole purpose of this program is to prepare people we serve for the world and move on and be successful,” Nelson says. “She has been diligent in following through with her therapy. She is invested in her wellness.”