Josh Stewart has a plan. And being an award-winning mason at a young age is just part of that plan. Josh has twice won his regional competition and twice won the New York State SkillsUSA masonry competition. He returned to Kansas City in June 2007 to compete in his second national masonry contest, held in conjunction with the SkillsUSA Leadership Conference.

"I'm learning the hands-on part, but I want to learn the design and structure part, too," Stewart says.

Stewart graduated in June from Vestal High School in Vestal, N.Y. and the Broome-Tioga BOCES (Board of Cooperative Education Services) School in Binghamton, N.Y. Immediately upon graduation, he enrolled in summer school at Broome Community College to study engineering sciences. After two years, he says, he has definite plans to transfer to a four-year school and complete a degree in civil engineering.

You can trust a young man like Stewart to follow-through on such a plan. He gets up at 4:30 a.m. to clean a Laundromat. He works with relative re-possessing cars and trucks. He works part-time in masonry, taking on small projects himself and working on larger projects with his uncles and his instructor, Lenny Verrastro.

"Josh was an excellent beginning mason," says masonry instructor Lenny Verrastro. An instructor for 25 years, Verrastro has hundreds of students to compare, and of Stewart, he says, "Teaching Josh the trade was pure pleasure."

"Everyday, he brought back to class what he learned the day before. He's a natural, you know. Good hand-eye coordination, but he doesn't just rely on it. He works on it. He's got a good family. That always helps."

"Last summer Josh worked with me during our concrete program," Verrastro says. That's when I get to do a lot of flat work with my students. We do some concrete block work, but a lot of sidewalks, too. We excavate, form, gravel, re-bar and then pour and finish. The boys have to be there at six in the morning, so they show me fast who can be counted on," Verrastro says. "I can always count on Josh."

The praise is mutual. "Lenny has taught me everything I know (about masonry). He's the one who has given me the opportunity to pursue the trade. Make sure," Josh says, "Lenny isn't forgotten in my story."