NEWS: Job Corps one of community’s ‘best-kept secrets’
By Carlton Fletcher
Sep 8, 2018
TJC students give back to community through trade programs
ALBANY — If Melvin Drake has his way, the misconceptions about Turner Job Corps and its students that have long persisted in the community will be replaced with an appreciation for what TJC students do for the community.
“I don’t know where or when it started, but Albany has always thought Turner Job Corps students were the problem kids, that they were sent there as a punishment,” said Drake, a former Albany High School basketball star who now holds the joint titles of business community liaison and work-based learning coordinator at TJC. “But nothing could be farther from the truth.
“The kids who are in our programs must go through a federal background check, a drug screening and be fingerprinted. We help prepare these students to take their place in the work force.”
In the last few days, a group from TJC’s landscaping trades cluster gave the prominent “Welcome to Albany” sign at the Albany/Lee County gateway into the city a complete facelift. Tall grass surrounding the sign was cut; bushes, weeds and trash were removed. Within a relatively short period of time, the semi-eyesore had been transformed into an eye-catching — and welcoming — lot.
“It’s kind of the way these things work sometimes: When the money was allocated and approved to do these four gateway signs, nobody gave much thought about the upkeep around them,” Drake said. “Our center director, William Coleman II, worked out a memorandum of understanding with the city whereby we’ll be responsible for the upkeep around all four signs. And at no cost to the city.
“That’s what people don’t know about Job Corps: Our students are very actively involved in community service. But an agreement like this works both ways. It helps the community, plus it provides a real-life opportunity for our students to gain experience. It’s just a phenomenal plan. Our students work in trades like landscaping, culinary arts, heavy equipment operation and maintenance, asphalt paving, medical assistant and several more.”
Having the opportunity to work on projects like the landscaping around the welcome signs does more than teach the TJC students about a specific trade, Drake said.
“The students have the opportunity to clock in and out, to learn the proper way to wear their uniforms, to take their lunch breaks during assigned times,” he said. “We’re just one of the best-kept secrets around. For instance, Jean Williams, who has been our landscaping instructor for 18 years and does an amazing job, instructs the students on how to keep up the 200 acres around our facilities as well as other projects like the welcome signs.”
Demar Walker, 21, who came to the Albany Job Corps facility from South Carolina and is preparing to move on to advanced training in Missouri, said working on the Albany welcome signs and other projects helps him and his fellow students learn how to prepare for specific projects.
“We know what questions to ask about the job so that when we show up, we have the right equipment,” Walker said. “I selected this cluster because I like working outside. Yeah, it gets hot, but I don’t mind.”
Alijah Mace, 20, who is from Warner Robins, said the structure at TJC is helping him prepare for a future career.
“I’ve had the opportunity to explore other clusters, other trades; I just happen to like landscaping best,” Mace said. “Getting this kind of real-world experience lets me know what it’s really like working for a living.”
Job Corps students are 16-24 years old. Some work to earn high school equivalency diplomas, others attend the facility for vocational training, while still others use their time at TJC as a pathway to college.
“We have Turner Job Corps students working at jobs all across the city, even in the mayor’s office,” Drake said. “We have students who left here and are now attending Albany Tech and Albany State.
“We also teach our students about community service, about giving back.”
In fact, Drake notes, TJC students’ Youth2Youth peer group will host a Feed the Children drop at the school on Thursday of this week. They’ve collected enough donations to provide food boxes for 400 families. The event is open to the public.
“We have eight career success standards at Job Corps: workplace relations and ethics, personal growth and development, information management, independent living, multicultural awareness, interpersonal skills, career and personal planning, and communication,” Drake said. “But we also have a motto that we take very seriously: Let’s do this.”