Melody Frazier, center, watches as students with the ValleyBuild-MC3 Apprenticeship Readiness Program perform some necessary repair and maintenance at her Frazier Gardens and Clubhouse event venue in Fresno. Photo by Frank Lopez.
Written by Frank Lopez
At Frazier Gardens and Clubhouse in Fresno, owner Melody Frazier proudly stands among the woodcarvings of her late husband Bert F. Frazier Jr, who she opened the event venue with in 2017.
As Frazier gives a tour of the museum housing a lifetime’s worth of wood-carved figures and rocking horses, construction students from the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board’s ValleyBuild-MC3 Apprenticeship Readiness Program perform some necessary repair and maintenance to help keep her business open and thriving.
The pre-apprenticeship training program introduces students to careers in building and construction trades.
Around four years ago, Bert was diagnosed with cancer. The Fraziers knew he wouldn’t survive the disease and they wanted to come up with a way to generate income.
People had been asking the Fraziers to throw weddings and events on their property they called home for years, so they figured they would turn the land into an indoor and outdoor event venue.
Since her husband’s passing from cancer in 2018, the business has been struggling but Frazier had been able to keep a steady flow of clients.
Then the pandemic hit.
As an event venue popular for hosting weddings, company parties, picnics, memorial dinners, and all other kinds of events, the business was stalled early on in the pandemic due to social distancing mandates and Covid-19 fears.
“We had to lockdown immediately,” Frazier said. We were booked months in advanced, and I told everybody to pick another date once this is over. We did not expect it to last a whole year.”
However, shortly after the first lockdowns, Frazier was bombarded with calls for more outdoor events, especially funerals.
With so many indoor event venues imposed with state mandated capacity limits, there was a surge in interest for outdoor venues such as Frazier Gardens.
“They wanted their events, they were tired of the pandemic, but they wanted to all be safe,” Frazier said.
A Frazier family member mentioned to someone at the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board of the struggles the venue was facing with property upkeep — cleaning, painting, construction of a fence and landscaping.
In any normal year, Frazier said that revenue from the businesses would have enabled her to keep up with the maintenance, but the slowdown in business put operations behind.
The ValleyBuild-MC3 Apprenticeship Readiness Program has been training 23 participants over the last six weeks in various union trades, teaching them skills employed by electricians, painters, sheet metal workers, cement masons and more.
On Aug. 12, 23 apprentices went to Frazier Gardens for about five hours to help clean up and bring some repairs to the venue.
“I feel a big relief,” Frazier said of receiving this help. “Its also motivating employees in the garden areas to upkeep the areas they work, so this is a lot of help.”
Ashley Matthews, project coordinator for the construction division of ValleyBuild, a part of the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board, said the main focus of the program is to help people get into union trades that have often faced barriers of entry.
The ValleyBuild has pre-apprentice programs throughout 14 counties in the Central Valley, including in Stockton, Fresno and Bakersfield.
“There are a lot of people out there that maybe don’t know how to get into a union trade, or they’ve never worked in construction before or trade they want to get into it,” Matthews said. “If you’re female, it might be very intimidating, or a minority, you might not be sure on how to go about it.”
Funding for the program comes from the SB 1, The Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017, and through the grant, the program targets individuals that are either unemployed or underemployed. They fit in four categories—female, minority, at-risk youth or justice-involved ex-offender.
Matthews said that people that once thought they could never get into a construction program get to work hands on in various trades
Students receive six weeks of instruction and take practice tests for actual union tests, get help with job placement, resume development and interview preparation skills.
Matthews said that helping Frazier with her business was a great way for students to get some experience and offer help to the community.
“They had been impacted by the pandemic, and needed some health to get back on their feet, so it sounded like a great community project for us to come out and give back,” Matthews said.