At 25 years old, Ricky Gass has nearly worked more jobs than he can count: he worked in the warehouse of a Restoration Hardware, served coffee at a Dunkin Donuts and was a cashier at a Family Dollar.
“I’ve worked at least 12 jobs. Some I worked for a day, some I worked for a month, some I worked for a year. It’s just that you realize you’re not valuable. And that day, that’s the day that you leave,” he says. “You realize nobody cares about you. If you call in and say something’s going on with your child or something’s going on with you, they don’t care. But I know what I’m capable of, and every time I felt that on a job, I left.”
He remembers getting this feeling while earning $7.25 an hour stocking shelves at Toys R Us.
And again when he was working at Family Dollar in 2017, the year his first daughter, Kamilla, was born.
“As soon as I had Kamilla, the next day I had to go to work. I couldn’t get a day off because my paycheck wouldn’t be that good. And even though I just had my daughter, I couldn’t stay in and hold her because I had to go back to work,” he says. “At that moment, I knew that I didn’t want to work in retail anymore because it’s the bare minimum as far as benefits and things of that nature.”
Today, Gass lives in Linden, New Jersey and earns roughly $100,000 per year as a solar panel installer — a job he has no plans of leaving.
Getting the job
The middle of five children, Gass says his family’s apartment in Newark, New Jersey was cramped. His family later moved to Linden, where he and his siblings attended Linden High School.
“I was a good student. I’ve always liked to learn. But I was a little bit of a class clown at times, I can admit,” he says. “I graduated in 2014, and I knew I wanted to be different. I knew I wanted to have a good job but I just didn’t know how to get there. I was really confused after high school because I didn’t have a real plan.”
After high school, Gass tried college and dealt with mental health challenges that ultimately culminated in a conflict with law enforcement and spending time in an outpatient health facility. In 2017, Gass was struggling to find consistent work he connected with, so he enrolled in Job Corps, a trade school in Edison, New Jersey.
“I was running from my past. I was running away from complacency, laziness,” he says. “I was running from a lot of things, so I just put all my energy and effort into school.”
During this time, Gass mentored other trade school students and worked as a janitor and played drums for his church to make ends meet. A teacher of his, suggested he look into GAF Roofing Academy, a free training program in Parsippany, New Jersey.
He began the tuition-free program in February 2020 and in May 2020, began working full time as a solar panel installer for Solar Landscape.