Students often enter Timberlake Job Corps without a high school diploma, searching for direction in life.
But last Thursday, July 27, 15 Job Corps students walked across the graduation stage prepared to take on new adventures.
"The center's goal is (to have students) become successful in employment or continue training," said Sharon Hernandez, deputy director of Timberlake Job Corps. "We want them to have the skills to hold a job and earn a living wage, and have a job where they can really support themselves."
In addition to a high school diploma program, the center offers trade specializations in areas such as automotive, carpentry, culinary arts, electrical, firefighting, office administration, painting and welding. In order to graduate, students must have their high school diploma, complete a trade certification and earn a primary credential in their trade.
Created by President Lyndon Johnson as a part of his war on poverty, today Job Corps is the largest career technical training program for young people in the United States. Administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, the program has 125 centers across the country, in which education, technical training and housing are provided to enrollees from ages 16 to 24 at no charge to them.
In Oregon, there are Job Corps campuses in Portland, Troutdale, Yachats, Astoria, Glide and Estacada.
The Timberlake site is home to 186 students and is operated by the U.S. Forest Service.
Hernandez described the Job Corps program as "very self paced." Some students already have a high school diploma, while others earn their's during the time spent in the program.
"Some students already have their high school diploma or GED and complete in four to five months," she said. "Others start the high school program from scratch and finish in one and a half to two years."
Among the graduates of Timberlake Job Corps in July 2017 were co-valedictorians Areauna Barton of Battle Ground, Wash., and Trey Lopez of Federal Way, Wash.
"It feels amazing," said Lopez, discussing reaching graduation day. "I'm speechless."
Lopez was in the program for nine months and studied automotive, and Barton attended for 11 months and studied culinary arts.
Both students had positive things to say about their time in Job Corps.
Lopez described his decision to attend the program as a way of turning his life around.
"I was going through a bad time," he said. "I had taken the wrong path, and it was time to put an end to it. I needed education and trade skills for the real world."
Barton credits the program with boosting her confidence.
"I became more social and made friends easier, and I learned to be professional along the way," she said. "I learned to be confident in myself and my abilities."
Both graduates value the program's instructors and opportunities for education.
"No matter how much I learned, there was always more to learn," Barton said. "And we were all learning together."
Lopez added that although the campus' location — tucked in the Mt. Hood National Forest, far out of reach of cell phone service — was difficult at times, it was ultimately a benefit.
"I became more open minded," he said. "Being secluded, and having to adapt, it inspired me to want to change."
Along with the required curriculum at Job Corps, Lopez and Barton held several other leadership positions. Barton managed the campus' student store, which she described as "a lot of planning and budgeting, and hiring and working with the employees."
Lopez was a member of the campus' student government organization and flew to Virginia with other members of the group to learn advanced leadership skills.
"We learned a lot about communication and teamwork," he said, adding that the experience was one of his favorite memories from his time in Job Corps.
Now that they've graduated from Job Corps, Barton plans to find a job in the culinary industry before attending college for photography, and Lopez will major in nursing at Highland Community College.
Both students credit Job Corps with allowing them to gain a variety of useful life skills.
"It was time well spent," Barton said.
Interested in Timberlake Job Corps?
Job Corps is open to those ages 16 to 24. During their time in the free program, students live on campus, learn a trade and earn their high school diploma if they do not already have it. For more information, visit www.timberlake.jobcorps.gov or call 503-834-2291.