Trainee Allum Ross, learns how to frame as he puts studs for a window frame as Rising Sun Center for Opportunity program manager Marlin Jeffreys, back, looks on during aconstruction training at the training center facilities in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. Jeffreys graduated from the program in 2017, joined the union, and last year came back to work as program manager at Rising Sun Center for Opportunity. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

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OAKLAND — Arika Rivera is used to seeing raised eyebrows when she shows up to fix a heating and cooling system — she is one of the few women in that skilled trade. She credits the Rising Sun Center for Opportunity with helping her attain that job.

“Rising Sun has made a big difference for me,” Rivera said. “They provided opportunities for me to learn. They taught me the awareness to be able to make executive decisions for myself and my family.”

Once her training was complete, Rivera chose to jump into the heating, air conditioning and refrigeration business. She quickly realized being a female in that line of business is very much a rarity.

“Women are almost nonexistent in that trade,” Rivera said. “When I show up for a job, the customers are surprised to see a woman doing the repairs.”

Oakland-based nonprofit Rising Sun helps people gain training related to construction trades before they even join an apprenticeship for the industry that interests them.

The agency has received funding this year from Share the Spirit, an annual holiday campaign that serves disadvantaged residents in the East Bay. Donations helped support 49 nonprofit agencies in Contra Costa and Alameda counties. Rising Sun Center will use the grant to provide starter tool belts for fall program participants and assistance with transportation, union dues and uniforms and equipment, when needed.

“We are an apprenticeship readiness program,” said Marlin Jeffreys, program manager of adult programs with Rising Sun. “We provide opportunities for people to get into the skilled trades, with good wages and a pathway out of poverty.”

That’s what happened for Rivera. She said her chosen field provides a living wage, which is crucial in the pricey Bay Area.

“Being in the East Bay, the cost of living is very high,” Rivera said. “I get a raise every six months. Having employment like this so I can be financially stable is so important to me and my children.”

In many cases, Rising Sun assists people who have been incarcerated. All too often, post-prison life can bewilder some individuals.

That was the case with Jeffreys, who was in prison for 26 years. During that quarter-century, Jeffreys did stints at the state prisons of Solano, Soledad, Pelican Bay, Mill Creek, Tehachapi, and San Quentin.

“I came home in March 2017, and I had heard about Rising Sun when I was still in prison,” Jeffreys said. “My goal was to be an electrician.”

He joined Local 304 of the Laborers’ International Union and passed the electrician’s test. Right around that time, though, Rising Sun offered him a job as a program manager, and he decided to take it.

“I like what I’m doing. This job is fulfilling to me,” Jeffreys said. “It’s great to be able to help people who might not be aware that these opportunities are available. I provide advice on how to reintegrate back into society.”

Fahim Al-Qaadir was incarcerated from 1987 to 2018 — more than three decades.

“I was convicted of murder, attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon,” Al-Qaadir said. “At age 17, I was into selling drugs and being a defiant teenager who didn’t care about or love himself, let alone anyone else.”

After leaving prison, he lived in a halfway house, and at a parole meeting, he was exposed to a number of programs.

“It was bewildering right after getting out,” Al-Qaadir said. “Things were going so fast after jail. But I had some big hopes when I got out.”

During one session, Al-Qaadir met Jeffreys and learned about Rising Sun Center and its array of construction programs.

“I was eager to get back into society and into the workforce and to reintegrate myself so I could become a productive citizen,” Al-Qaadir said.

Al-Qaadir picked an apprenticeship program that provided skills in the ironworking industry.

“I learned how to tie rebars, make measurements, how to read blueprints, I learned a lot,” Al-Qaadir said.

In the end, he decided that he preferred to take a position as a laborer. Among the projects he worked on: the stunning new Chase Center in San Francisco.

Rising Sun’s primary sources of revenue include government grants, private grants, foundation grants and corporate sponsorships, said Samara Julie Cummins, development manager with Rising Sun Center.


Share the Spirit

The Share the Spirit holiday campaign, sponsored by the Bay Area News Group, funds nonprofit holiday and outreach programs in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

To make a tax-deductible contribution, clip the coupon accompanying this story or go to Readers with questions and individuals or businesses interested in making large contributions may contact the Share the Spirit program at 925-472-5760 or

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