Tribal Government & News

Vocational program helps Tribal member find business success

05.30.2019 Danielle Frost People
Tribal member Phil Cureton works on removing shingles from a Tribal member's home in Independence on Thursday, May 23. He was helped by the Vocational Rehabilitation Program within the Social Services Department to start a successful construction business. (Photo by Timothy J. Gonzalez/Smoke Signals)

By Danielle Frost

Smoke Signals staff writer

A year ago, Phil Cureton was surviving on Social Security disability payments and at a loss for how to better his life.

Today, he is the owner of a successful construction business and plans to buy his own home soon.

He achieved this significant turnaround in his circumstances through a combination of hard work, perseverance and help from the Tribe’s Vocational Rehabilitation Program within the Social Services Department.

The program provides culturally relevant services to Grand Ronde Tribal members with disabilities to achieve or regain employment. Services include career exploration, job coaching and searches, work clothing and tools, transportation, licensing and fees, and on-the-job training.

Cureton, 44, grew up learning the roofing trade from his father, Victor Cureton.

“Dad taught all of us kids, the girls and boys,” he said. “I started roofing when I was 13.”

Phil worked in the trade for much of his life until he was diagnosed with benign tumors, which caused him to have seizures. He had surgery and was subsequently put on Social Security because he was deemed unable to work, something that didn’t sit well with him.

“I cannot just sit in a house all day,” he said. “I need to be outside doing something. But I didn’t think with my disability I could be licensed, bonded or insured to work in construction again.”

After exploring various options in the Education Department, he was directed toward Vocational Rehabilitation and caseworker Angey Rideout.

“We help Tribal members with disabilities get back to work by walking them through the steps to reach their goals,” Rideout said. “Phil’s goal was self-employment by being able to start his own construction business.”

However, the path to self-sufficiency was not an easy one. With Phil’s disability, he had to go through a much longer process than someone who was able-bodied. But he was determined.

Five years ago, he quit taking medication and no longer had seizures. Last year, he convinced his doctor to give him a medical release to work.

However, obtaining a contractor’s license and bonding cost $21,000, something that his limited income could not cover. That’s where the Tribe stepped in to help.

“I got everything I needed,” Phil said. “The Tribe paid half my insurance and bond to get me started, and the state covered the other half through a program for people with disabilities who want to go back to work. Mine was a pretty special case so the process took a while.”

The times when Phil wanted to quit, his wife Carie and Rideout convinced him to stay the course.

“It was taking forever, but they pushed me to keep going,” he said.

Carie acknowledged that the long process was stressful, but she is happy her husband persevered.

“During some stressful times, we got into a few arguments,” she said. “But it’s pretty cool that he was successful and now has his own business. It’s good that he got out of a rut.”

After passing the state test on his first try, Phil received his license for Big C Construction LLC in March.

“This is a great season to be a roofer,” he said. “We have been going nonstop.”

Carie drives her husband to and from job sites as he has a restricted driver’s license due to his disability. However, Phil is hoping to have that issue resolved within the next few months. Besides, he is no stranger to dealing with red tape.

“The normal timeline to get a construction license is a month,” he said. “It took me from February 2018 to March 2019. If it wasn’t for Vocational Rehab, I wouldn’t be able to do it. We have these resources for Tribal members and if you can stick with it, it is worth it.”

Although he is happy to be earning a living wage again, Phil said the transition from being on Social Security to working 12-hour days and trying to understand complicated tax laws has been stressful.

But in the end, it’s worth it.

“I have a good income now and can afford things, like buying my wife flowers,” he said.

Big C Construction offers services including deck building, siding and roofing. As a way of paying it forward, Phil has been hiring workers from the Tribe’s Tribal Employment Rights Office.

His brother, Alan, is his business partner and has won various roofing competitions based on his speed, quality and workmanship.

Currently, the brothers are working on repairing a Tribal member’s roof in Independence and recently secured a contract for DaBella of Portland to do roof repairs.

Rideout says Cureton’s success is due to his level of commitment.

“He went from being unemployed to owning a successful business,” she said. “In the self-employment arena, it’s hard to get to that place. You have to really be willing to get up every day and work for it.”