By Sean Fallon
April 28 was National Pay It Forward Day in which people were encouraged to perform acts of
kindness which, in turn, would be paid forward by the recipient to others. For members of New
Jersey Bricklayers Union Local 5, there was no need to have a designated day on the calendar to
do what they do year-round: pay it forward.
So, it was purely coincidental that on Pay It Forward Day, 15 union members, from apprentices
to full members and significant others spent a beautiful spring Saturday morning in Vineland
working with Habitat for Humanity of Cumberland County to lay the foundation on what will
become a three-bedroom, two-bath, 1,200-square-foot forever home for a deserving family.
In what has become an annual tradition for the Local, each member offers their time and
talents to help others, in this case, laying a foundation — both literally and figuratively — for
someone’s future. It was a tradition started years ago under former field representative Joe
Pillo, who along with Leon Jones, began to donate time and resources.
“Joe really set a precedent for us,” said Mario Cerrito, the current field representative for Local
5. “When he retired, he mentored me and this is one of the things that he got me into.”
Now that he is the field rep, Cerrito makes sure the tradition Pillo began continues. “We do
several of these a year,” Cerrito said. “It’s a good opportunity for people to see the good that
Joe Santini, who oversees the Local at these functions, agrees. “It’s good for us to go out and
lend a hand and help a great organization like Habitat for Humanity,” Santini said. “This also
shows the community that unions are always here to lend a helping hand.”
The Local donates their time not only to help others achieve home ownership, but help
themselves, giving members the opportunity to hone their craft in a different setting. Projects
such as this are especially beneficial to apprentices. Besides the goodwill that comes along with
the project, the apprentices also have a chance to gain valuable experience as they progress in
the Local, and in their profession.
“It’s a great thing to do,” said John Yates, an apprentice with the local for about eight months.
“I get to do a job I love and help someone at the same time. It’s great what this union does. I
get so much out of working with these guys.”
While Local 5 was putting their efforts into this project, they were not alone. The lucky
recipients, Carlos and Rosa Gonzalez of Vineland, were there as well, helping the Local for what
will eventually be a home they will share with their two daughters, ages 8 and 3.
“This is incredible,” said Rosa Gonzalez who came to Vineland with her husband from Puerto
Rico several years ago. “To see these guys come out and help us reach our dream of our own
home is very special. We plan to pay it forward in the future.”
That would be two gifts the Gonzalez’s received from New Jersey Bricklayers Union Local 5: a
new home and an opportunity to pay it forward.