LOS ANGELES – Ten years ago Ed Roche started recruiting students for his trade program from the most unlikely of sources – street gangs. He and Eighth District Councilman Bernard C. Parks recently appealed to the Los Angeles City Council to help fund Roche’s unique initiative that has taken gang members off the street and trained them in air conditioning repair.
Roche, who was first introduced to the trade at age 11, created the training program to meet a need. After starting his own heating and air conditioning business, Natric Industries, he needed a labor pool but found none in the Inglewood community where he lived.
Well schooled in the fine art of adapting, the former Marine saw an opportunity in many neighborhood men whose criminal records made them pretty much unemployable. He posted a sign stating “Gang Members Wanted for Opportunity” and soon had 30 students whom he trained in the trade of HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning).
The effort resulted in students receiving Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certification and licensing that qualifies them to work anywhere in the country on refrigeration systems of any size. To this day, five of his first students remain employees with Roche’s company, whose client list includes El Pollo Loco and Costco. Others have found meaningful work at other companies making $18 to $25 per hour. Some of the students currently earn six figures.
The 10-week program, which includes EPA test preparation and hands-on training, has been implemented in San Diego, and, earlier this year, in Long Beach. Now he is seeking funding for the project through the Los Angeles City Council. Training cost is about $2,000 per student, including tools, books supplies and tests, all of which Roche initially paid out of his own pocket.
Students receive training in system service and repair using the most advanced technology and techniques. They learn how to maximize energy efficiency to reduce overall energy use. A green bus with the words Gangsters Go Green painted on each side best illustrates the point.
Meanwhile, Hollywood has come knocking. Roche’s life is being chronicled in a documentary, a webisode series and a feature length movie. Born in prison to a bank-robbing heroine addict and abusive, drunken father, Roche sought sanctuary in the U.S. Marine Corps. However, following his accomplished military career, he ended up in Mexico City in the deadliest prison in Latin America. After his release Roche, who is White, was in search of a house, and, without knowing the community, hastily purchased in Inglewood in the middle of gang territory where Black and Latinos frequently battled. His is an incredible story of trial and triumph. For information about Roche and has program, visit www.patriothustler.com