Sometimes all a person needs is one little push. For Andrew “AJ” Sheehan, of Dubuque, this push was working with Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation and Dubuque’s Housing Education and Rehabilitation Training (HEART) program.

AJ struggled finding a career path he was passionate about in his life. When he started working with an IVRS job counselor and the HEART program, AJ discovered his love for working with his hands and became interested in carpentry. He began an apprenticeship with Dubuque’s Portzen Construction and signed with the Carpenter’s Union.

AJ found fine-detailed woodwork to be the most rewarding among his interests. Since immersing himself in his work, AJ’s focus and drive have grown significantly.

The HEART program helped AJ discover his love of carpentry. HEART is a hands-on learning program offered by Dubuque Community Schools’ Alta Vista campus and a partner of IVRS. Those enrolled in HEART have the chance to work toward receiving their diploma while helping transform neighborhoods into livable communities. The program offers vocational construction training while simultaneously teaching values of self-sufficiency and personal growth.

Jean Wuertzer, the Transition Alliance Program (TAP) facilitator, has worked with AJ since he transferred to Dubuque’s Alta Vista campus. She emphasized how much improvement she saw in the short time she has worked directly with AJ.

“He’s done a lot of tours and other things to try to figure out what he wanted to do, and in this past year he’s gone from the class clown to the leader of the crew and wanting to create a career out of this,” said Wuertzer. “This last whole semester has been a total turnaround for him. He was so mature and it was incredible to watch his transformation.”

“Jean has helped him with the paperwork for the apprenticeship, job, shadows and more. I’ve worked with him for about a year now and he’s been honored quite a bit. He’s taken the initiative to explore the career path on his own by going to events like the trades apprenticeship at the fairgrounds. That’s his passion,” said Jessica Miller, rehabilitation counselor at the Dubuque IVRS office.

AJ received a green cord from the Carpenter’s Union to wear at graduation and has earned college credit through the program as well. As a class of 2023 graduate, AJ admits that he most likely would not have graduated if it were not for the HEART program. Since beginning his apprenticeship he has truly embraced a reason to clean himself up and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

“He wasn’t just thankful, he was grateful. It wasn’t just a generic, ‘thank you all for helping me’,” recalled Wuertzer. “He really pinpointed people and looked them in the eye and said he was grateful for them.”