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Job Corps offers long-term vision for students and community

February 2, 2018 –  A group of people are working hard to make sure their students go forth, ready and prepared for a productive , life in the community. To do – takes tireless dedication and long-term vision, but the directors at Excelsior Springs Job Corps has just that.

United by their passion to see each student succeed, Dr. Bill Allen, center director, Andrea Schroetke, director of administration and support services, Lori Sams, director of programs and Sherman Williams, director of residential living focus on how to best serve each student individually, while preparing them each for the path ahead.

The focus is always on a career. In fact, one of the requirements set forth by the Department of Labor, under which Job Corps operates, is a minimum hourly wage of $11.59, with at least 32 hours a week, and benefits.

“College often prepares students to live in their parents’ basements,” Dr. Allen said. “But we prepare them to live on their own.”

“Our purpose is to focus on at-risk youth, ages 16 to 24, and provide them with employability training and a pathway for a lifelong career, at the wages the Department of Labor expects,” Allen added.

The students they help are the ones who may otherwise be overlooked, for a variety of reasons.

“We provide services to a population of students that may not have job training opportunities where they are at,” Sams explained. “Maybe they can’t afford to go to college, maybe they’re just not college students, they don’t have access to a huge job market, but also we serve those students who for whatever reason, whether it’s a learning disability or other issues, they didn’t finish public school –  we give those students a second chance to finish their high school diploma. We train them in both hard skills needed for their career, and a lot of extensive training in the soft skills that are needed to keep a job, too.”

Through creative teaching, customized scheduling, and one-on-one tutoring, the teachers at Job Corps are able to help these students through their academics, raising them up entire grade levels within months.

“Student success, it keeps me coming back every day, for nearly ten years. You actually get to see them change, from a person who isn’t employable, to someone who is fully employable and has a career in front of them. That’s exciting,” Allen said.

“Being able to watch those students grow, both socially educationally, move forward with not just a job but a career path and goals, and we have the opportunity to help them reach those,” Schroetke added.

For Sams, she works for those moments when she sees “the lightbulb go off” for a struggling student.

“Seeing those students walk across the graduation stage is the height of my year,” Sams said.

Williams believes the students he works with are a precious commodity that he’s been charged with, and so he, like the rest of the team at Job Corps, takes his responsibilities seriously. In addition, just as he and the others invest in their students, he eventually expects a return on that investment.

“I’m being entrusted with the most precious commodity that you can be given, and charged with helping change their lives. I believe all of us take it as such. It’s our investment in them. We invest daily, and then we place a demand on that investment. And that demand is that the student not only gets employed, but keeps that job. That’s what keeps me going.”

At times, Job Corps faces preconceptions within the community, they said, and feel as though their students are misrepresented. In 2015, Department of Regulations has required very strict safety measures to ensure the safety of the students, and they are not allowed to leave the premise unescorted, unless they are going to work.

“There’s a big misconception that kids who come to Job Corps have to come here, or that they are made to come here, and that’s simply not true,” said Schroetke. In fact, Job Corps cannot accept a court-ordered student. All students come voluntarily.

“Our students never leave our center unless it’s to work or go on a recreation trip. That’s it,” Allen explained.

The students at Job Corps have a level of seriousness that other students do not, Dr. Allan said.

“Every student who is here wants to be here,” said Sams.

“The Job Corp Center is a vibrant, safe center with high quality students that want to be successful. That’s it,” Allen stated.

And as they work hard to change the lives of the young people with whom they find themselves entrusted, they enthusiastically invite the community to join in, seeking volunteers in a variety of ways. As a center, they offer their students activities that range from basketball to quilting, from volleyball to pottery, and all could benefit from volunteers. They could always use tutors, as well, Allen said.

“The community can assist us in changing the lives of these young people,” Williams stated.

By Samantha Kilgore •

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