Change seems to be a powerful constant in Eleni Vournas’ life. Originally from Honduras, she was adopted at a young age by a Greek/ American family and spent a few years on a ranch in Montana. When she was four years old, her family moved to Kalamata, Greece, where she spent the rest of her childhood and adolescence. It was in Greece where her passion for traveling was cemented. At twenty years old, after completing two years of computer programming college course work at the University of Piraeus, Eleni decided to move back to the United States to restart her degree. Four years later she graduated from University of Portland with a major in Mathematics and a minor in Psychology.
Following graduation, Eleni went to Haiti to volunteer for 16 months. While living there, she worked on many construction projects and quickly fell in love with carpentry. It was her goal to continue in the construction field when she returned to Portland, but to her dismay, she found it was nearly impossible for a young woman to find work in the field with the level of experience she had. Given this barrier, Eleni chose to pursue a career that would allow her to use her degree in Psychology. She began working at a local non-profit as a Pediatric Psychiatric Technician; she was paid $11.83 an hour at this job. Though Eleni enjoyed aspects of her job, she found herself getting burned out and still dreaming about a job in the construction field that would allow her to continue to fund her passion for traveling.
A couple years ago, when Eleni was 27 years old, her aunt sent her a newspaper article in The Oregonian about Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc. (OTI). After learning about the pre-apprenticeship program offered by OTI she immediately enrolled and has never looked back! Eleni graduated from the Trades and Apprenticeships Career Class with perfect attendance, high praise from her instructors and peers, and was also asked to be the student speaker at her graduation. She was honored to receive this recognition and enthusiastically organized a flash mob with her peers – to the delight of the OTI instructors, friends and family in attendance!
Today, just two years after graduating from OTI’s pre-apprenticeship class, Eleni is 80% finished with her general carpenters apprenticeship and is now making $29.25 an hour — more than double the highest wage she made, with a college degree, before entering the trades. Eleni works for Hoffman Structures Inc. on an exciting new project at the campus of Oregon Health and Sciences University. Eleni has also taken advantage of the free trainings she is able to access though her membership in the Northwest Carpenters Union and has completed a rigging certification, which she finds to be really exciting work.
For Eleni, OTI opened the door to the Carpenters Union, provided her information about all of her options, and also answered all of the questions she was struggling to answer on her own before enrolling in OTI’s program. Eleni was also given access to a support group of strong female instructors and peers who share a passion for work in the trades. She still keeps in contact with many of them today.
If Eleni could give advice to other women who are considering work in the trades, she would tell them that it is definitely worth trying! She believes that the tangible skills she learned while in the trades as well as the things she has discovered about herself are priceless. She also feels really proud to be representing OTI on the job because people in the industry know and respect the advocacy work OTI does to get women started in high-skilled trades careers.
From a practical point of view, she also believes that graduating from the Trades and Apprenticeships Career Class helped her get hired faster due to the legacy that OTI holds in the Portland Community.
In the future, Eleni plans to complete her apprenticeship to become a journey level
carpenter and would eventually like to move up to a foreman position. But, Eleni’s passion for traveling and her inspiring ability to take risks has not been tamped out. Eleni dreams of also pursuing a degree in the medical field and coupling that knowledge with her existing construction skills in order to bring much needed services to third world countries. We applaud her ambition and vision! For now, Eleni is loving her life as a member of the NW Carpenters Union and finds the work she does to be thrilling.