From Bikes to Bridges - Rafael's Story

By age 14, when he first rolled up his sleeves to work on bicycles, Rafael knew he was meant to work with his hands. He remembers feeling drawn to the intricate assembly of the bicycle. “I’ve always liked tinkering,” he says. “Bikes are like puzzles. I understand them.”

But Rafael’s specialty is not limited to bicycles alone. His skills and interests also include blacksmithing and welding, trades he learned as a teenager at industrial arts programs in the Bay Area. Rafael spent years perfecting his skill set, gaining hands-on experience building and repairing, eventually earning his certifications in welding (SMAW, TIG, and ARC), plasma cutting and more. When asked what he enjoys about his craft, Rafael says with pride: “I can relax and enjoy the process.”

Before coming to New Door, Rafael admits that while he was busy, he lacked overall motivation. “I had earned my high school diploma,” he says. “I wanted to develop professionalism, but I didn’t know how.” Rafael’s mother, who heard about New Door through the community, had encouraged him to apply.

Initially, New Door’s paid internship sparked Rafael’s interest, but he also saw an opportunity to build meaningful relationships, specifically with other young people who shared his values of hard work and accountability. He was looking to celebrate his personal career successes with a group — and not surprisingly, he found this with the Dragons, his cohort at New Door.

Naturally, Rafael fit right in with the crew at New Door’s social enterprise, Pedal Revolution, a full service bike shop where he completed his three-month internship. Working with people like him, who understood and appreciated the mechanics of building things, motivated Rafael to continue to level up his trade skills.

At the close of their three-month term, youth interns at Pedal Revolution build their own bike, which they take with them after they successfully complete New Door’s program. “Finishing my bike was one of the best experiences,” Rafael says. “I thought I was going to cry when it was done!”

Rafael’s personal and professional growth was largely influenced by his relationship with his case manager, Jon. “It was good to have someone to talk to, who listened and was helpful,” Rafael says. “I wouldn’t be in the same place I am now if it weren’t for Jon.”

While at New Door, Rafael’s greatest area of development was practicing patience. Halfway through Rafael’s time at New Door, he was accepted into a vocational school; while he considered leaving New Door to pursue this opportunity, Rafael’s case manager encouraged him to complete his internship first. “I encouraged him to be patient and wait for something really great,” Jon says.

Sure enough, an even better opportunity presented itself to Rafael after he graduated from New Door in July 2017. Today, Rafael is attending a specialized program in San Jose that will prepare him to become an underwater welder. The training lasts ten to twelve months, with the option to extend one year to gain advanced certification.

Most importantly, Rafael is excited by his new career path. “I want a job that challenges me to become mentally and physically stronger,” he says. Gaining the skills to weld massive machinery, such as ships, bridges, and oil rigs, excites him. From building bikes to building bridges, Rafael’s determination and achievement is worthy of recognition.

“My advice to young people is to find a job you enjoy doing,” Rafael says. “Play to your strengths and make it a career.”