OAKLAND (CBS 5) – The new Bay Bridge isn’t just giving new life to the Bay Area, it’s also giving many of the workers building it a new beginning.

Art Shanks has been re-energizing the City of Oakland for more than 20 years. His Cypress-Mandela Training Center is a boot camp for manpower. Men and women – often troubled – are immersed in 16 weeks of intense training in construction trades.

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“We tell students the truth,” Shanks said. “You can’t wear your pants down. You can’t be chemically dependent. You can’t abuse your wife. You have to take care of your kids. You have to forge on and make history in a new way that is positive for this community.”

Shanks’ epiphany came the day of the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989. Nine hours of search-and-rescue at the fallen Cypress Structure convinced him that someone in the city needed to step up and rebuild it from the ground up.

“That freeway had a big impact on Oakland. The city was shaded, very doom-and-gloom. But when that collapse happened you actually could see light all across for the first time. It was something devastating, it was also some good. That freeway was gone now.”

Seeing an opportunity in building the new freeway, Shanks founded the Cypress-Mandela Training Center to help build a workforce. 3,200 men and women have since graduated, with a hire rate of 90%. And now, 70 of its grads are a part of and even bigger project – the new Bay Bridge.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” said Eric McGuire. “I haven’t been in trouble since.”

McGuire is grateful. He had a choice: jail or Cypress-Mandela. He has now spent the last 5 years building the bridge and rebuilding his own life.

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“My spirit changed,” he said. “I got hope. I’ve got hope back in my life. I had a troubled past, but it’s all good now.”

Vonna Carter was a 20-year drug abuser. Now clean, sober and proud, she has become the bridge’s first female African-American crane operator.

“It’s just fascinating. Just the idea that, ‘Yes, I worked on the bridge. And it will always be there.’”

For Vonna and Eric, the Bay Bridge is a constant reminder of the life they once had. And the one they have now. It’s also represents a rebirth for the City of Oakland.

“We look at this as a unique opportunity being born for both sides,” Shanks said. “For both Oaklanders and San Franciscans to bridge the gap and say, ‘You know what? We’re really just one. One great city here, one great city there, but in total we’re one people doing the same function, doing the same job, trying to make the cities the best that we can make them.’”


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