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National Volunteer Month Spotlight: Pete Schram

From set design, to carpentry and window installation — Pete Schram's dedicates his vast construction knowledge to support training efforts at Operation Fresh Start.

Pete Schram has been involved with Operation Fresh Start (OFS) since he started on staff as a construction supervisor in 1989. Since then he has traveled to other cities across Wisconsin to help them start their own construction training programs modeled after OFS; he and his wife Martha have been longtime donors; and even during a time when the couple lived in Texas, Pete still traveled back to Wisconsin to train participants in the OFS & Urban League of Greater Madison’s Foundations for the Trades program. Now in retirement, Pete is still involved with the organization as a volunteer construction trainer.

“He lives and breathes Fresh Start,” says Jeff Reed, OFS Construction Expeditor.

“I tell young people it’s always going to feel better at the end of the day if you did a good job, rather than if you did just enough to get by,” says Pete. He also shares his perspective that working a high-paying job is oftentimes unfulfilling – and it might be better to find work that pays less but makes you feel better about yourself.

Pete Schram (center) with Foundations for the Trades crew.

Sharing decades of construction experience

Pete has construction expertise from years of setting windows, working in the carpenter’s union and being a traveling roadie building sets for Broadway plays. He enjoys that OFS programming is focused on problem solving and modeled after the very physical and very visible job gratification that happens on a construction site.

Pete has shared his knowledge as an OFS construction volunteer for years, including supporting the Strive Construction program since it started five years ago.

“Pete brings a totally different dynamic to our young people,” says Jasmine Banks, OFS Program Manager. “He’s so relaxed and brings a really good energy to our crews. He provides a certain level of knowledge that comes with his experience.”

"He's like an encyclopedia — whether you ask about something or come across it in the construction process," says Joe Collins, OFS Strive Construction Supervisor.

He often shares words of wisdom with the participants. Instead of “measure twice, cut once,” Pete’s phrase is “think thrice.”

“You have to think through it, because if you’re thinking it wrong, you can measure right and cut right – but it’s still going to be wrong because you weren’t thinking about it,” says Joe.

Strive Construction participants are also impressed by the amount of knowledge Pete is able to share with them.

“He loves to teach about random tools – where they came from or why they made it that way,” says Berhan, a Strive Construction participant. He also talks with young people about how construction processes have changed over the years.

“It was great working with him. I had a lot of fun,” says AJ, a Strive Construction Participant. “I was really impressed that by how much he’s done in the trades and the fact that he’s still working.”

Strive Construction members have been building a new construction home in Sun Prairie since June of 2021. Pete has been there to help since the beginning, when the concrete basement was poured and framing was completed. He provided instruction throughout the drywall and trim process. Pete built stairs going into the basement and into the garage and took the lead on creating a deck with bench seating off the back of the main bedroom. He usually floats around to different young people on the worksite, providing one-on-one feedback.

"He's very informative and will take his time to explain everything to you before you actually do the work. If you're stuck on something, he gives you advice to do it without worrying because he's already been there," says Mack, Strive Construction participant.

“I think Pete is great. He took his time to teach me, even if it took me a while to get used to everything,” says Berhan. “And when he makes a mistake, he doesn’t worry about it. It doesn’t even take him two seconds to think about it. He just goes right to the next step of fixing it or making a new piece.”

As a volunteer, Joe says Pete has essentially filled a staffing hole for the Strive program. “Without him, Strive would have been such poor training.”

Joe says Pete is great at providing perspective. He always reminds people that the core of Operation Fresh Start’s programming is not about producing homes – it’s about educating and providing training to young adults. “He says, ‘We’re trying to teach young people, so it’s not going to be perfect. Things aren’t going to go right and that’s fine. And there shouldn’t be a deadline because all that does is add pressure.’”

Keeping busy in retirement through volunteering

After so many years of being involved with OFS, Pete says he’s still around because he really enjoys working with young people – including hearing their perspective. They make him question certain construction methods and think outside the box instead of getting stuck in a rut of “that’s always how things have been done.”

Pete says he is volunteering during retirement because he finds it important to have to answer to somebody else besides just himself. “If I tell Joe I’m going to be here on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at a certain time, I have a motivation to get up, put on my boots and get out there. That just keeps me in a better head space and a better physical space. And I get an awful lot of benefit out of it – being able to broaden my sense of perspective.”

“Pete will go that extra mile, and Fresh Start needs people like Pete to keep it going,” says Jeff Reed, OFS Construction Expeditor.


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