Larry Vermeulen has been responsible for keeping Brenkle Court, our USDA Rural Development Mutual Self-Help project, on track and moving forward. His job includes ordering materials, scheduling inspections and subcontractors. More important: He’s turned a group of rookies lacking any construction experience into a skilled, functioning team.
On-the-job training, starting with the most basic carpenter skills
Larry taught the families the most basic skills, starting with pounding nails, learning to measure and safely using power equipment. They dug trenches in an August heat wave; they began framing and raising walls. Each new skill was a milestone, and it got easier.
Larry has kept his team focused from one weekend to the next
Saturday mornings tend to be chaotic for the first hour. “Twenty-plus people look to me to give them a job. While there’s plenty of work, it can be challenging to get everyone set up. The last year has been much more efficient, as our team has learned to work together and to anticipate. Their skills have continued to develop.”
Building relationships in the community
We’ve been so fortunate to have local support for this project. Central Valley has given us significant discounts on materials. Our plumber, Chris Andrews, and electrician, Jeff Weinman at UpValley Electric, are allowing the Brenkle Court families to do some of the work and save money. Ken Taylor at T&O Masonry rents us scaffolding at a reduced rate. Greg Morgan brings his trailer and hauls our debris away every couple of months. The Methodist Church provides lunch once/month, and we’ve got a couple of volunteers who put on their work clothes and join us at the job site every Saturday.
“We’re all proud of being a part of this project. It’s meant two years of no weekends off for the families and for me—so we’ve put our lives on hold a little bit. But our families are motivated, and they’ve worked hard, embracing every new challenge. I just ordered kitchen cabinets, and we’re putting up siding. The results are now so tangible—they’ll be moving into their new homes by the end of summer 2021. I want to believe that my contribution was important.”
Larry’s construction experience dates back to summers while attending UCDavis
After graduating, he founded UpValley Construction and was a residential contractor for many years before co-founding Occidental Technical Group, where he provided IT services. Larry is active in the community and has held a number of leadership positions at Grace Episcopal Church. He has also mentored young people on Grace Church mission trips that typically involve construction work. “This project is like a mission trip but it doesn’t end after ten days and we get to see it through from start to finish.”