Springdale center offers academic, vocational training

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Kevin Harvey tests Monique Hornbeck's blood pressure in a health occupations training at Springdale Job Corps.

In 2007, Alexis Barker felt stuck. The Seattle native, then 23, was living at home, working at Chucky E. Cheese’s and eager to find the next step.

“I needed that extra shove to push me out of my comfort zone,” Barker said.

With her aunt’s encouragement, Barker arrived at the Springdale Job Corps center that May to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse.

It was a tough adjustment living in a new state and she cried the first three days. But by the time she finished her health occupations training in 2010, Barker had a much stronger sense of confidence and direction.

“There are a lot of good, educated, respectful people in Job Corps, people who just need something extra to get them going,” she said. “It’s a place that will give them an opportunity, a chance, a way to be successful.”

Administered by the United State Department of Labor, Job Corps offers education and career and technical training to low-income and at-risk young people, ages 16 to 24.

“We’re offering this program to students who have fallen through the cracks for a number of reasons,” said Naomi Ulsted, director for the Springdale and PIVOT centers. “This is a great in-between for them to build their skills, work on employ-ability and interviewing practice and go out and get a job.”

Approaching its 50th anniversary, the program was started as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty through the Economic Opportunity Act and now includes 124 sites across the country, including five in Oregon.

Jobs Corps offers room, board and training free of charge to students who fit income and application requirements. In turn, students commit to a strict “zero tolerance” policy regarding drugs, underage drinking and violence.

Along with the opportunity to earn a high school diploma or GED, students can pursue one of four vocational training programs in auto body collision repair, protective services/security, health occupations and office administration.

The majority of students range in age from 19-22, but can join at age 24 and continue until their training is complete. Students are self-paced and receive third-party certifications.

“We look at trends in the region and ask where the long-term growth in the industry is and what’s our potential for working with local businesses,” Ulsted said.

On average, students take nine months to a year to complete training, but because Job Corps is self-paced, they can take up to two years.

Daniel Harris, 22, is finishing up in office administration.

“(Job Corps) got me out of where I was and put me in a better, safer and cleaner environment,” Harris said. “Free education, room and board — what’s not to like?”

Another student, Kevin Harvey, started the health occupations track in January. Before he came to Job Corps, Harvey worked at Macy’s, wanting to find a longer-term career.

“This has changed my life,” Harvey said. “I want to take this training as far as possible.”

Training runs 8:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday to emulate the work week. Most students live on campus, with 20 of 109 off campus.

Along with staff and instructors, the Springdale center has resident assistants living in the dorms and a security person who stays overnight. The center is always looking for ways to supplement its offerings, welcoming volunteers to lead specialty projects and events.

“People are still under this misimpression that ‘Oh, it’s all bad kids who go to Job Corps,’ Ulsted said.

Added Anna Snyder, business and community liaison, “There used to be this saying, ‘Jail or Job Corps in the ’80s. But it hasn’t been that way for almost 30 years. We’re focusing on providing low-income and at-risk youth a path to success.”

On Aug. 30, Barker, now 29, will complete her nursing training at Mt. Hood Community College, with plans to pursue her bachelor’s degree in nursing at Oregon Health & Sciences University. She dreams of working in a hospital burn unit. “This is the best thing that could have happened to me,” she said.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Sami Knechtel prepares a car spoiler in the auto body repair department at Springdale Job Corps.

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