Job Corps changes

Annette Mennem, Minot

Recently, I found out that the national office of Job Corps has sent a directive to all Job Corps in the nation for a temporary suspension of new student enrollments for up to six months, and it may cut 3,000 slots in Job Corps across the United States.

This does not mean that Job Corps Centers are closing. It means for six months no student will be admitted into the Job Corps program anywhere in the United States, including Minot’s Burdick Job Corps Center. This was devastating news for a lot of people, especially those on a waiting list trying to get in and some at an age scale that is about to tip, sending them over the age limit of 25 years old.

This letter is written to support the Job Corps program, and I would encourage those reading it to consider what this means to the future of our youth in North Dakota and across our nation. There are many types of youth. Some graduate and go on to higher education, and some obtain vocational training from programs such as Job Corps.

When I started working at the Job Corps program in 2003 as a substitute teacher. It was a job, and then it became more than that. It became a rewarding career with many success stories. Let me share a few of them:

The “socially challenged” young lady walked into my classroom asking for help learning to do ratios. The label “socially challenged” is how she described herself; her parents described her as shy. What the Job Corps saw was talent and brilliance that had yet to be polished. Not only did the “socially challenged” young woman learn how to do ratios, she gained acceptance and employability. Today, she works two jobs and pays taxes. One of her jobs is working with youth in a nonprofit organization, teaching them art as a way to express themselves.

The “solo parent” could not read beyond a second-grade level and hated the word “welfare,” not because of its definition – aid from a government agency – but because of its stigma. The Job Corps admissions specialist gave her some facts, one being that “for every dollar invested in her there is a $4 dollar return.” That was all she needed to hear; according to her, the cycle had to stop. This young lady didn’t know much about reading, but she did know that she was a third generation “welfare” recipient and her children would not be a fourth. That “solo parent” has proven that admissions specialist’s facts correct. Today, she’s a productive citizen, working as a certified nursing assistant and paying taxes. At night, she attends classes to become a medical assistant.

The “foster kid,” as he would describe himself, was for me as a teacher one of the most heartfelt success stories. This young man came into the world with a lot going against him, the worst being no home to live in or family to take care of him. He ended up in the foster care system, and at the age of 18 he once again found himself homeless, since he had aged out of foster care. His social worker brought young people to the Job Corps as a possible place after foster care; he was one of those young people. When the “foster kid” came into my classroom, he didn’t trust many people. It took some time for him to see that not only could I be trusted, but I was also a way out of a predicament. He worked hard, really hard, to pave a path that would provide him a future. The “ex-foster kid” obtained an education, trade, job, car and path. At graduation, I asked him what he got out of Job Corps? He replied, “A home and a family.”

You see, it isn’t about politics, it is about people. The Job Corps system provides a service to thousands of youths. It is a way for a foster kid, solo parent, person with Aspergers’ to get a “hand up.” If the Department of Labor holds to the decision to suspend extending the hand to thousands of young people for even a day or a week where will these young people go? Who will provide a chance for an education and a trade? What will become of them? I wonder if these questions were considered when DOL suspended admitting young people into their Job Corps centers as a “cost-savings measure.” What I fear is that these young people will remain uneducated and on another government program, one that does not pay dividends for every dollar it gives. As a tax-paying individual of this state and this country, I say, “Use my dollars as a hand up, not a handout.” If you feel the same as I do about your tax dollars, let those in the national office know your feelings about how your dollars need to be invested not spent!