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Job Corps students vow to make most of the opportunity

Aug 30, 2015 By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Breanna Shakespeare is a 20-year-old from Fort Washakie studying office administration.

Kaitlyn Hart, 20, from Penrose, Colo., is studying carpentry.

Acardo Riquelme, 20, from Utah, studies welding.

Daniel McElderry, 23, from Butte, Mont., and Gabe Shotgun, 19, and Adrian Cook, 20, both from Riverton, are studying welding too.

These six youths are from four different states and learning different trades, but what they have in common is they are all some of the first students at the Wind River Job Corps Center in Riverton.

They also are all excited about the opportunity.

"I want to travel, and carpentry is going to get me all over," Hart said.

Her dream is to travel to New Zealand, and she hopes she will be able to do so working as a carpenter. She took carpentry classes in high school but was having trouble starting a career.

"I got tired of filling out endless job applications and hearing nothing from anybody, so I kind of jumped the gun and came here," Hart said.

Cook echoed Hart's sentiments.

"I hope to build a foundation for a stable career instead of being at several jobs," Cook said.

Bettering her job prospects is especially important for Shakespeare, who wants to be able to support her 1-year-old daughter.

"It's just a chance to learn more to further my education and start a career," Shakespeare said.

By Aug. 13, the Job Corps center had 13 students on campus; the first had arrived Aug. 4. More are expected every week until the campus reaches its full capacity of 300 students by March.

The students all are 16 to 24 years old. They must be U.S. citizens, they have to meet low-income guidelines, and they cannot use drugs - but less-tangible criteria exist as well.

"You need to be motivated to complete the program," Wind River Job Corps Center director Julie Gassner said. "They need to be able to fully participate in the program. That means they don't have obligations (or) commitments outside of their time here."

Organized time

Most Job Corps students live on campus for the duration of their program, saying in dorm rooms shared rooms with three other youths.

Students can complete their courses in about nine months, but they are allowed to stay up to two years.

Their time is highly organized.

Those living on campus all wake up at 6 a.m. Monday through Friday. They have breakfast at the campus cafeteria and then have classes and training from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

In the evening, they have dinner and time for recreation or studying. Curfew is 9 p.m. on weekdays, and lights-out is 10 p.m.

Weekends are open for studying and recreation, and the curfew is pushed back to midnight.

"It's like a job, and we tell them, 'This is your job,'" Gassner said.

'New adventure'

Whether they are from another state or just down the road, Job Corps is a new experience for all of its students.

"It's a new adventure," Shakespeare said. "I've just (gone) to one school my whole life. It's exciting to see all these new faces and meet all these new people."

Transitioning to Job Corps from their former lives can be difficult at times, however.

"I'm a huge introvert, so it's been a bit of a challenge opening up to everyone and staying open," Hart said. "I just have to open my time frame a little longer and get used to everything here."

Job Corps can be overwhelming to students in their first week, but they get into the flow of the program by the second week, she said. Her classmates agree.

"What we kind of learned is what the facility is about," Cook said. "That is pretty much our whole first week learning everything about the facility."

In the second week students started learning job skills, such as obtaining a work safety certification, he said.

Many students noted it was hard to leave home and family.

Riquelme has found a way to cope with missing his mother and younger sister.

"I call them every day," he said.

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