Job Corps celebrates 25 years

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It’s been anniversary season at the Job Corps lately. Last year marked the 40th anniversary of the federal Job Corps program, which began as part of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Locally, the Hubert H. Humphrey Job Corps Center, located in the Como Park neighborhood, celebrated its 25th anniversary on September 27.

In 1981, the HHH Center was created on the former campus of Bethel College (now Bethel University), which by then had completed its move to Arden Hills. The center provides vocational education and training for individuals from economically disadvantaged back-grounds. It serves 350 to 400 students a year, who range in age from 16 to 24.

The September 27 event included a dedication ceremony for the center’s new cafeteria, which opened last November. It is named in honor of George Latimer, former St. Paul mayor and an instrumental figure in establishing the HHH Job Corps Center.

“Without George Latimer’s leadership, this center would not have opened here when it did,” said David MacKenzie, the center’s director. “There was some opposition to the project back then, and it took a lot of political courage to speak in favor of it. Our responsibility has always been to live up to George Latimer’s vision.”

Building plans for the new cafeteria generated their own controversy when a proposal was first presented to the surrounding neighborhood in June 2002. The original plan called for two new buildings — a cafeteria and a child development center. Neighbors asked why vacant buildings couldn’t be renovated rather than erecting new ones.

“We took those questions seriously,” said MacKenzie. “The result was a decision to put up one new building instead of two, and to renovate an existing one for the child development center.”

According to Dan Cherryhomes, director of administrative services at the HHH Job Corps Center, plans are proceeding to open the child development center soon in cooperation with Head Start, which will oversee its operation. It will provide child care for nonresidential students, and is equipped to handle about 20 children.

“Welfare-to-work legislation has been hard on single parents,” said MacKenzie. “We’re pleased that our facility will make it easier for some of our students to find accessible and affordable child care.”

The child development center is located on the first floor of what had been the Hagstrom Dormitory when Bethel owned the campus. The entire building has been renovated, which means the upper two floors could eventually be used to house student parents, MacKenzie said.

The HHH Center is one of 122 Job Corps centers in the United States. The national Job Corps publishes annual rankings for all of its centers. According to MacKenzie, the HHH Center consistently ranks in the top 10. In 2005, they ranked seventh nationally.

“One of the ranking categories is job placement,” said MacKenzie. “We’ve always done well there. About 95 percent of our graduates get jobs.”

Since 1993, a Neighborhood Advisory Committee, consisting of neighborhood residents and Job Corps students and employees, has met monthly. A recent topic of discussion for the committee has been the future of the former tennis courts, located on the corner of Arlington and Arona, across the street from the main campus.

MacKenzie said that the Job Corps hopes to convert that area to green space, and has applied for a grant from Ramsey County to finance the project.

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