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Altomare Sisters

Altomare Sisters BUILDING TOWARDS THE FUTURE-Three LaGrange Sisters Succeed in Construction Trade Careers with training from the Lorain County JVS

Altomare Sisters, Building Trades, Class of: 2014
It's a fact that men dominate the building trade industries.

Non-traditional, male-dominated professions, such as masons, carpenters and electricians, contain 25 percent or less women in total employment, according to a 2013 report by Catalyst, a nonprofit organization committed to expanding opportunities for women in business.

But that gap could be closing, especially if three sisters from LaGrange have anything to say about it.

Amanda Altomare and her sister, Breanna Olexa, graduated from the Lorain County JVS Building Trades Academy completing the Masonry and Carpentry programs, respectively.

And Cassie Altomare, the youngest sibling, is currently a senior in the school's Plumbing and Pipefitting program and will graduate in June.

Amanda Altomare, 24, said that she became interested in bricklaying through her love of crossword puzzles.

"Bricklaying is like a giant crossword puzzle," said Amanda, the first female JVS graduate to earn her journeyman's card in masonry. "You build from the outside edges and work your way inward."

Amanda completed her training at the Northern Ohio Administrative District Council Regional Training Center in Hudson. She will receive her journeyman's card in October from the Bricklayers and Allied Craft Workers Local 5.

Because she completed the JVS Masory Program, she was able to bypass the pre-apprenticeship portion of her training and became a first-year apprentice at Foti Construction in Wickliffe.

"I already had experience with building leads, laying blocks to line, reading blueprints and tape measures, and knowing the different positions of bricks," she said.

"The JVS treated me like a young adult. I was well prepared for my career and for continuing my training."

Amanda's first job was installing concrete block at the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center.

"It was a little scary," she said. "The security was tight and we were fingerprinted every day. I didn't know anybody on the crew, but the journeymen were great and they saw that I was eager to learn."

Amanda currently works for VIP Masonry in Cleveland and she's worked at Cleveland's new Medical Mart, the Allen Theater, Tri-C's campus, University Hospitals and Eaton Corp.

"Believe it or not, even though I keep really busy between my job and my three-year old son, I still find time to work my crossword puzzles, but it's usually on my coffee and lunch breaks," Amanda said, laughing.

Amanda admits that she influenced Breanna's and Cassie's decisions to attend the JVS.

"Like me, I knew they weren't being challenged enough in high school," Amanda said. "I opened the door and guided them, but they made their own decisions about their careers."

Breanna Olexa also praised her father, James, a cement truck driver, her mother, Bobbi Jo, an electrician, and grandfather, Bob Zelis, a carpenter, for encouraging her career choice.

"I've always loved working with my hands," said Breanna, 20, the only female graduate in the carpentry program from the class of 2011.

"Some of the guys I worked with were very supportive and taught me the tricks of the trade," she said. "But other guys … they could be tough on you, I wasn't intimidated, but sometimes I'd come home really discouraged. My parents always told me, 'don't let it bring you down.' "

The JVS is also where Breanna met her husband, Matthew Olexa. They were carpentry students together and married in 2012.

The Olexa's currently reside in Jacksonville, N.C., where Matthew is stationed in the U.S. Marine Corps.

If not for the JVS, Cassie Altomare, 18, might not be graduating in June.

"I was having a rough time. I wasn't interested in sports, which are very popular at my home high school," Cassie admitted. "I'm sure I would have dropped out."

Instead, she excelled in the Plumbing and Pipefitting program, winning the gold medal for her demonstration about Pex Pipe installation at the state SkillsUSA competition in May 2013. She advanced to the national leg of the event competing in Kansas City in June of the same year. She earned a 4th place national ranking, competing against 38 other students.

"More people are converting the plumbing in their homes from copper to Pex, a durable polyethylene that is safe to drink from," said Cassie, who will install the pipe in her parent's home next summer.

Cassie also honed her technical skills during an internship at Ray Esser and Sons Plumbing in Elyria, where she learned more about plastic, cast iron and copper tubing and pipefitting.

"I was so excited to land that internship," said Cassie, who, like her sisters will be the only female student graduating from her chosen program. "I got a real feel for what it's like to be a plumber. Sure, I worked mostly with men, but everyone was so nice, willing to share the tricks of the trade."

And having two sisters graduate from the JVS made Cassie's career choice easy.

"Amanda's a bricklayer, Breanna does carpentry … it just made sense for me to become a plumber," Cassie laughed.

And the topic of going into business together has come up.

"We've worked well together in the past and we would love to open our own construction company," Amanda said. "It would be so cool."
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The Lorain County Joint Vocational School District does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability or age in its programs and activities, and provides equal access to the Boy Scouts and other designated youth groups. © 2022. The Lorain County Joint Vocational School District. All Rights Reserved.