ON MY WAY to the mailroom on the Potomac Job Corps Center campus, which once housed Junior Village, I pass most of the corps members waiting for the 8:15 a.m. bell. Many of them have been home on weekend passes and their dress bears the mark of loving mothers: starched white shirts, fashionable tops, sharply creased slacks. Some of these youngsters, between 16 and 22, hang on the railings in suffering Monday morning attitudes, while others gather in clusters, laughing, gossiping. Transistor radios blast out disco rhythms. Bystanders spontaneously dance a few steps. I can hardly suppress a smile; I would love to join in.
By the time I distribute the daily bulletin and pick up the center director's mail, the corps members are in class.
Monday is a day of staff meetings. First the supervisory staff trickles in. Feminists would be pleased with the female-to-male ratio. More women than men are in supervisory positions here.
Crisis of the day: The steam system is out of kilter. If we want hot water in the dorms, we'll have to leave the heat on; if we want cool rooms, the corps members will have to do without hot water. Several staff members remember days in the Army without hot water. But the health administrator points out that this is a voluntary job training program and the young people are promised a safe and healthy environment. The repairs will be handled by the D.C. Department of Human Resources, as the buildings are owned by the District.
Senior staff meeting. The center director runs through a list of the week's tasks. Although the center opened to the first corps members on Jan. 31, much is in a state of semi-completion. A contract with a laundry has to be established for the bed linen; bids for a fence, separating the center's 60 acres from the influences of surrounding southeast Washington are going out; two of the dorms are still not rehabilitated, yet the Department of Labor is sending more students than we have beds and classroom space. To accommodate new students, some corps members from earlier groups whose families live in Washington will have to become non-residents and commute daily by bus.
As soon as I get to the office a corps member wants to see the center director to report a fight. While he waits, I listen to his version. From his neck dangles a necklace of Indian beadwork, a cross on a silver chain and two hand-sized padlocks on a braided strip of fabric. The locks are for protection, a handy weapon, he explains.
Next a group of visitors, WICS (Women in Community Service), from Baltimore arrives and waits in my office for a tour of the center. These women serve as screeners and recruiters for Job Corps. One staff member, who deals with the young people when they first come here, sees her chance to impress on WICS that Potomac Job Corps is not another place to avoid responsibility.
"We're not here to play," she said. "We're here to learn. We provide a worklike environment, where the students are expected to behave as if on the job. If they don't do that, they shouldn't come here."
A spokeswoman for the group is rather miffed.
"If we were dealing with refined and finished young ladies, they wouldn't need us," she said.
Later, after having watched the instructors in the academic and vocational classrooms working patiently with students, the women return somewhat mollified.
My sons, 17-year-old Mike and 15-year-old Chris, come by to go to lunch with me.
"Such an old place," Chris says, and when he sees the corps members lined up, "just like our school cafeteria."
"Psst, psst," a girl at the table next to us says. "Are those your kids?"
"Are they coming here?"
"No," the boys say in unison.
"Why not, it's a good place," the girl says earnestly.
Eight corps members wait at my door. Someone broke into their locker, they say, and stole all their clothes. They want to get money from their clothing allowance and go on an emergency shopping trip. I send them to the proper department, but throughout the day one after the other returns to check with me if there isn't something else that can be done to speed up the process.
Representatives from the D.C. Public Schools stop by from a tour of the center.
When my rooms turn quiet again, I can hear children's voices as the preschoolers skip down to the playground. These children of the young women enrolled in Job Corps attend the Child Development Center, which serves a two-fold purpose: that of nursery and classroom for future child development aides.
Staff members discuss problems in the dorms: A bed overturned, use of profane language with a residential advisor, lighting a match under a sleeper's foot, use of drugs. I comment to a counselor on the incidents. She laughs.
"It's no worse than my dormitory at the University of Maryland. Did you read in the paper, when they threw beds out of the window? That was the year I lived there."
Across the hall from my office, a center review board is hearing cases of corps members accused of having violated the rules. Two sets of parents are waiting in my office. Both families are welldressed, decent-looking people. They are upset with their sons' behavior and hope they'll be given another chance to stay at the center.
It is a pleasant day and I decide to have lunch with a book under one of the big trees on campus. The view over the Potomac to Alexandria is splendid today. Fragrance of honeysuckle lets me forget that wasps from Blue Plains often make breathing miserable.
When I come back to our building, I find corps members of the bricklaying class patiently rebuilding the deteriorated brick planters. This may turn into a great looking place yet.
The student president comes by, not with a complaint, but to pass out some of her poems, nicely done, expressing a young woman's wish for perfect love. She also informs me that she will be in the group of 18 who are leaving for an oreintation tour of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. A graduate of H. D. Woodson Senior High School, she was directed to Potomac JCC, when she could not find a satisfactory job and enrolled here in physical therapist aide training. Now she can set her sights higher.
A few minutes after 2 p.m., shouts of 300 plus young people zero in on our building. I walk to the window and, below, clusters of youngsters, much like my own, voice their happiness over the work week's end and pay in sight. But the noise continues for over an hour in the basement. Finally the employees from finance drag themselve to our offices, looking indeed battle weary. Much will have to be reorganized by next payday, the deputy director says; we'll need more pay tables, more staff to supervise and to explain that days missed without valid excuse means no pay.
A call from the regional office, Department of Labor. Our capacity will be increased from 525 to 555 corps members.
"Where are we going to put them?" wails the center director.
As I cover my typewriter and clean up my desk, the center director and deputy director work out a schedule so that one or the other will be in reach of the beeper throughout the weekend.
"These are just growing pains," the deputy director, and old Job Corps hand assures us. "Next week will be smoother." CAPTION: Picture, Karin Kinney of Oxon Hill, Md., is a free-lance writer who has been working as a temporary secretary at the Potomac Job Corps Center for more than two months. The center trains persons between 16 and 22 for high school equivalency certification, in the building trades, for railroad and other clerical jobs, child day care, health and food services. It is operated by RCA for the Labor Department.