Francisco Torres didn’t quite know what he was doing when he tore up his whole kitchen and bathroom 13 years ago. The new homeowner picked up a wrench and got to work on the pipes, and though he lacked formal training, he found himself actually relishing the experience.

But the pipes weren’t the only problem for this new homeowner. “I had a terrible mortgage, and a terrible interest rate. There were times when my bills weren’t paid, my mortgage wasn’t paid,” Torres says.

Francisco, a South End native, put himself through college, obtaining an Associate of Arts and Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. He grew up witnessing extreme violence, murder, and drug abuse, but persevered and was the first in his family to graduate from college. His first career out of school was as an aircraft mechanic, but he eventually realized that there were few opportunities in the industry, and it was very difficult to secure a promotion — particularly for a younger minority employee.

That’s when he saw a Facebook ad for the Building Pathways Pre- Apprenticeship Program, and decided to give it a try. “Mayor Walsh’s program gave me a second lease at life,” Francisco says. He became immersed in the program, visiting different trade halls and gaining practice at these facilities. Francisco obtained many certifications through Building Pathways, including Basic Life Support & First Aid, CPVC Blazemaster, OSHA 10 and Hoisting & Rigging. He even earned his CDL license from a Building Pathways affiliate. And though the bills at home kept coming, there was hope ahead.

“I knew, if I kept my head down, I’d get there.”

Just as valuable as the skills he acquired were the connections he was able to secure. “After you finish the ten weeks and pass the courses, you graduate. When you apply for apprenticeships at the different trades, Building Pathways advocates for you,” says Torres.

Remembering how much he enjoyed working on the piping systems in his home, he gravitated to Pipefitters Local 537. With the sponsorship of Susan Moir of UMass Boston, Karen Blessington of John Moriarty & Associates, and Andrew D’Angelo of Building Pathways, he now had both the skills and the backing that the Pipefitters were looking for.

He was ready to join Local 537 when tragedy struck.

Both of his parents were diagnosed with cancer almost simultaneously. While this was personally devastating, the Pipefitters made sure it would not derail his career. “I will never forget that,” Francisco says.

“The Pipefitters waited while I took care of both of my parents. And when I was able to return to work, they told me ‘When you’re ready, we’re ready.’ I was given a job within a week.”

At 38 years old, Francisco is older than your average apprentice. He may have taken a different path than others in his class at Local 537, but he’s found a career that has given him a viable present and a hopeful future

Francisco wrapped up his first-year apprenticeship, and has been able to work on interesting projects, such as Boston College’s new multi-million dollar recreation center. He’s most proud of his work on the Pipefitters’ new training center, which held its grand opening earlier this year.

He’s now equipped with professional pipefitting experience, but his concerns go beyond the kitchen and bathroom of his home now. He has a 19-year-old daughter in college, an 11-year-old son, and 9-year-old daughter. The benefits that come with being an apprentice provides him the solid foundation to take care of their needs.

“I’ve been relying heavily on my medical benefits. Construction industry benefits are top-notch, second to none. My whole family is covered; I have no fear of emergency room visits or regular visits. Because of my career, that stress is gone,” says Torres.

In his spare time, Francisco enjoys giving back to his community. For the past seven Thanksgivings, he has paid for dozens of turkeys out of his own pocket, partnering with a nonprofit to distribute them to residents in the South End neighborhood where he grew up. Francisco also coaches football and judo. “I definitely don’t want to stand still,” he says.

“I want to keep looking for more training and some day, maybe have my own company, something that I can pass on to my children. Something where I can run the whole project.”