by Cesca Janece Waterfield
These Contractors Have a Story
Labor Day may have been last week, but for Larry Lindsey, everyday involves labor. When F.I.R.S.T. Contractors Inc. is on a job site, he is there, working as hard as the young men he supervises.
Lindsey is Founder of the non-profit, which provides job training to young adults leaving foster care. It stands for “First in Readiness and Self-Sufficiency Training” and the aim is to increase participants’ chances for success by providing them marketable skills, confidence and emotional maturity through work in construction and landscape management. Last year, Lindsey was named a “Richmond History Maker” by the Valentine Richmond History Center. The award was a proud moment for Lindsey. But he prefers that attention go to the young people he serves: “More people became aware of F.I.R.S.T. Contractors, true. But they became more aware of this foster care population and how great of a risk they’re at as young people with no family support. Thirty percent of the homeless population are former foster kids. That’s huge.”
Taking the Assignment
From his first year as a psychology student at Hampton University, Lindsey says he knew what he would be doing today.
“I was raised in a plumbing and heating business [owned by] my dad and all of his brothers,” Lindsey says. “Once I started learning certain theories in college, I would think, ‘My dad said that,’ or ‘My uncle said that. They didn’t use those exact words, but I learned that as a child when I was learning how to be a plumber’s helper.’ I started thinking the components of employment have therapeutic elements.”
The realization gave him an idea: “I don’t know how it’s going to sound,” Lindsey says. “But it feels like an assignment that was given to me from something, somewhere much greater than me.”
He graduated in 1986 and then earned his Master’s degree from Old Dominion University. He worked for several years as a Staff Psychologist in the Dept of Juvenile Corrections. But he admits to becoming frustrated with the system and traditional methods of treatment. He remembers, “It was like, [I should] create something effective, and take the assignment.”
Making a Living – and a Life
In 1998, he started F.I.R.S.T. Contractors. In the 12 years since, more than 500 young people have completed the program developing skills as they build high-quality picnic tables and storage sheds. In 2008, F.I.R.S.T. Contractors built a home in Barton Heights.
“One of the biggest things I want people to know is I run a job training program,” Lindsey says. “But what I’ve learned about job training or employability is it’s not about skill sets. It’s about being emotionally prepared to work. Emotional preparedness is about behavior. That’s what is most critical.”
Comparing his method to conventional counseling that some young adults transitioning out of foster care are required to undergo, Lindsey asks, “How do you rehearse, re-direct, model, all those things once a week in 55 minutes?”
Lindsey says his method is effective because it allows behavioral modification in real time and on working job sites. “When I was working as a child in the [family] business,” he remembers, “when I messed up, we corrected it right then. My dad said, ‘No, do it this way.’ F.I.R.S.T. Contractors is built on my experience of being raised that way.”
The family business, Lindsey Brothers, Inc., recently celebrated 45 years in operation. This month, they were named “Business of the Year” by the City of Virginia Beach.
‘This Table Has a Story’
Anyone can buy a picnic table or storage shed from F.I.R.S.T. Contractors, or hire the company for landscape management.
“I can employ kids,” Lindsey says. “They get paid every week. At the same time, I can provide a service to the community like a landscape, like a picnic table or storage shed, where it becomes a humane purchase. If you buy a picnic table from F.I.R.S.T. Contractors. you’ve increased a young person’s opportunity to be employable. The table is a better quality table at F.I.R.S.T. Contractors because we don’t teach cutting corners, we teach the right thing.”
Lindsey believes his model can be utilized by other communities and he’s written a book, Job Readiness Training, which he says is about “what it takes to be an effective helper.”
Yet more than abstract concepts, Lindsey believes in his commitment to the young adults he calls “my guys.”
“The decision to be an effective helper is less about all those theories and it’s about your commitment to that young person,” he says. “At the same time, I want to make a clear point that F.I.R.S.T. Contractors is not an accident. I knew exactly what I was going to do my freshman year at Hampton University. I knew I was going to do what I’m doing right now.”