Job Corps celebrates its 50th anniversary on Wednesday, marking a half century as one of the nation’s largest career-training networks for low-income youths.
The program, a vanguard of President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty, has seen its share of problems in recent years, including relatively low completion rates at certain campuses and mismanagement that led to budget problems and a temporary enrollment freeze. But Job Corps has forged ahead, doing its part to end the cycle of poverty through job training and education.
Below are four success stories provided by Jobs Corps from alumni and current students, ranging from ages 19 to 60, who exemplify the program’s potential.
Honorable Sergio A. Gutierrez, 60, Nampa, Idaho
Attended the Wolf Creek Job Corp Center in Glide, Ore.
“I was born in Chihuahua, Mexico in 1954. I crossed the border with my family and settled in Stockton, California. It was not long, though, before the pressures of raising six children, the low fieldworkers’ wages we lived on, and my mother’s mental illness forced the family to break apart.
“At four years old, I went to live with my grandmother in New Mexico. I have her to thank for instilling in me the importance of education, books, curiosity. She died when I was twelve. I had promised her to make something of myself, but I drifted into a life in the streets, and became something of a hoodlum. As a teenager, I had to make the tough decision to place my mother in the care of the state hospital after her health deteriorated so much that she became a danger to herself and others. I was lost in so many ways.
“My life turned around when I enrolled in the Wolf Creek Job Corp Center in Glide, Oregon. Job Corps saved my life. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree from Boise State University and a Juris Doctor from the University of California, Hastings Law School. But I am most proud of the GED that I attained at Wolf Creek, because it represented a new start in my life.
“Today, I’m chief judge of the Idaho state Court of Appeals. One of the things that brings me the most satisfaction now is my involvement in youth programs and my mentoring of at-risk young people, who all know me as ‘Judge G.’”
Shakira Brown, 19, Norfolk, Va.
Attends the Woodstock Job Corps Center in Woodstock, Md.
“I grew up in Norfolk and graduated from Indian River High School. I worked at IHOP. I wanted something more, something that would help me pay the cell phone bill and the car insurance bill, because I was barely getting by. But without a trade or skill, no one would hire me. I also realized at the time that I wasn’t surrounded by a very positive energy. I knew I was making some poor choices, and there was more to life than smoking weed and hanging out in the streets. So I applied to Job Corps and started in February.
“When I got here, I thought I would learn to be a security guard, but during the tour of all the programs offered at the center I met Darrel Jones, the welding instructor. He persuaded me to give the welding program a shot. And that decision changed my life. I love welding. At first, there were some ups and downs. I didn’t feel confident that I could be a good welder. Mr. Jones believed in me. Not only did he help me become a great welder—and I am a great welder–he also made me a better person. He guided me through the important aspects of life–about making the right choices and setting goals. He’s an all-around real person and I’m grateful to have him in my life.
“This week I got some great news. I GOT A JOB! I’ll be working as a welder at the Chesapeake shipyard in Norfolk. Now I’ll be back in my hometown, but I feel like I have the drive and sense of purpose to avoid all the negativity that was around me before. I plan to save money to buy a truck and start my own welding business.”
Nicole Baker, 24, Washington, D.C. Age 24
Attended the Potomac Job Corps Center in Washington, D.C.
“I graduated from Forestville Military Academy in Prince George’s County, and then I went to college. But after a few years, I realized I wasn’t living up to my full potential as a college student, so I left. I worked a few fast food jobs, and at a supermarket, but the pay was never enough to live on. I also knew that for me, these jobs weren’t going to lead to any better opportunities or a better future.
“Two years ago, when my daughter was born, I was a single mother sleeping in my car. I knew I needed to make a change, for myself and more importantly, for my child. I saw all the Job Corps commercials on television, and my mom had told me about the program, too. So I decided to apply as a non-residential student at the Potomac center. I spent eight months in Job Corps, and I grew a lot in those eight months. I learned about the importance of being on time for work and how to behave in the workplace. Job Corps taught me to be a professional.
“At the end of the program, I did an externship in pharmacy technology at CVS. At the end of the externship, they hired me, and I’m now working at the CVS in Oxon Hill, Maryland. And I love it! I have my D.C. and Maryland certification, and I’m planning on taking the national exam in the near future. I feel proud of where I am now. Sometimes it’s still a struggle, but that’s life. I know I’m in a much better place.”
Abel Mesele, 20, Silver Spring, Md.
Attends the Potomac Job Corps Center in Washington, D.C.
“Today marks my one year plus one week anniversary of coming to the United States. I grew up in Ethiopia. My father owns his own restaurant in Ethiopia, so I was raised to love cooking. I came to the United States to live with my mother and uncle in Silver Spring, and I started working two jobs in nursing homes. I was a dietary aide, which has a little bit to do with food, so I liked that better than my other job as a floor technician, which basically means cleaning the floors of the nursing home. I realized that there wasn’t much of a future in these jobs. They didn’t pay very well, and they didn’t have any opportunities for advancement.
“I’ve been enrolled at Job Corps for about four months. I’m getting my high school diploma and my certifications for the culinary industry. When I finish, my dream is to attend the Institute of Culinary Arts in New York City. I plan to enlist in the Navy to help me pay for that education. One day I dream of following the path of my role model, Marcus Samuelsson, a native of Ethiopia who immigrated to the United States as a boy and has become a successful New York restaurateur. Job Corps is giving me the chance to set off on that path, to start to change my life, to start to make a future for myself in America, and I’m excited about what the future holds.
“By the way, my best dishes are goat and lamb stews, and I can’t wait for the chance to show them off to the world.”