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March 15, 2004
Pair, once homeless are pest men for job

by Joyce Shelby
For Arthur James and Hector Figueroa, it's about second chances.

James, whose work history is in building maintenance, will seek new employment options when he takes a test in May to become a pest exterminator.

Figueroa hopes to pass the same test, work for an exterminating company and then open a company of his own.

The two Bedford-Stuyvesant men said that at this time last year, they had no such plans. They were homeless.

"My life was terrible, I was in the streets of Manhattan, wasting my life, using [drugs]. I was a mess," said Figueroa, 34.

The men got a new start through the Doe Fund, which offers homeless men and women shelter and job training, and helps find them permanent work and housing.

About 40 program participants have gone through a certification course for pest extermination, said Isabel McDevitt, director of community affairs and business development at the Doe Fund.

"Pest control is a skilled trade [that] you can learn relatively easily," she said. "The average entry-level wage is $12 to $14 an hour. If you compare that to food service, at $6.50 an hour, or security, which is about $7, that's a good wage for our trainees."

In January, the Doe Fund decided to open its own pest control training business, Pest at Rest. James, 66, and Figueroa are among the first four apprentices.

They work under the supervision of Edward Sheehan, vice president of operations for the Doe Fund and executive director of the Professional Pest Control Association of New York City.

Sheehan teaches a state-certified 30-hour course and makes sure the apprentices get eight hours of safety training and 40 hours of field training.

"Our goal is to place these guys in the industry, fully trained," Sheehan said.

Pest at Rest also aims to generate funds for the Doe Fund. Presently, as a free-standing program, Pest at Rest services seven Doe Fund buildings and two others run by not-for-profit groups in Manhattan.

The company will go after government contracts and contracts with other nonprofits, McDevitt said.

James and Figueroa said Pest at Rest and the Doe Fund have meant more than employment.

"The program saved my life," Figueroa said.

"My life is back on track," James added.

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