ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Dominick White has a bleak but clear-eyed view of his Atlantic City home in a public housing project known for crime and drugs.
"I grew up in a bad neighborhood," he said. "I'm trying to beat the odds and get away, and not become a statistic."
On Monday morning, White will start training for a career as a construction worker, a move that could be a life-changer for him and 14 other young city residents. They were selected for a 12-week program that will teach them construction skills, and then connect them with jobs at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, which is opening next summer.
Hard Rock, which is transforming the former Trump Taj Mahal into its own branded resort, sponsored the program, with the help of a neighborhood group "Friends In Action" that helped identify promising candidates.
"This initiative doesn't just prepare students for construction jobs in Atlantic City," said Matt Harkness, president of the Hard Rock casino. "It prepares them for meaningful careers in the building trades."
The outreach is aimed at a minority community that has long felt left out from the benefits of Atlantic City's casino industry. As of October, state statistics show that just 20 percent of the city's 22,066 casino workers reside in Atlantic City.
But those are gambling and hospitality workers. The training being offered is a rare opportunity to learn construction with the prospect of a job upon conclusion.
"Many times we have people in Atlantic City who say, 'We don't have a chance,'" said Mayor-elect Frank Gilliam, a Democrat. "And that has been true. It's not every day you get an opportunity to change your lives."
The students will learn construction math, and learn the basics of heating, ventilation and air conditioning; electrical work and job site safety.
A similar effort last year trained 15 other students for jobs on the Stockton University/South Jersey Gas construction project at the southern end of the Atlantic City Boardwalk, where Joseph Jingoli & Son is overseeing construction. Jingoli is one of Hard Rock's partners in the casino project, along with developer Jack Morris.
Elsewhere in the city, the Tropicana participates in a four-year apprenticeship program in which trainees learn plumbing and electrical work.
"After the training, apprentices enter into our workforce as full-time skilled trades employees," said Steve Callender, the Tropicana's general manager.
Officials would not say whether the Hard Rock trainees would be required to join a construction workers' union upon graduation, but White said he hoped to join one.
"It would be a drastic change," said the 29-year-old White, who has a part-time job. "I'll have a good job, making an honest living and providing for my family. I want better for myself."
Follow Wayne Parry at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC