MANCHESTER, NH – Cutting the ribbon on the $35 million Job Corps complex Monday was a thrill for all involved.
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen got a standing ovation after she was recognized as a driving force behind bringing the bi-partisan government-funded job training center to New Hampshire, a mission she launched back in 1997.
It was a thrill for Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, who talked about taking a leap of faith when Manchester developer Dick Anagnost encouraged him to literally lay the groundwork for the site on Dunbarton Road, while it was still in the dream stage.
Former Manchester Mayor and now Congressman Frank Guinta shared his misty memories from the podium, of the way it was when Anagnost told him how this project would be a game changer.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte said she was gratified to do her part to work out the bureaucratic kinks, which included seeing the contract bid awarded to Eckman Construction Company, allowing construction to finally begin on her watch after a tangle of political red tape that delayed the project, and ultimately sealed New Hampshire’s fate as the last state in the union to finally build a Job Corps program.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor Christopher Lu said it was a great moment for New Hampshire, and that the center would unlock the “tremendous potential” of the young people who come for training, adding a great benefit to the community, and the entire state.
And it was certainly a huge day for New Hampshire Job Corps Center Director Tamer Koheil, as he looked out across the audience of more than 200, gathered inside the pristine gymnasium for refreshments and a grand tour – politicians, business owners, parents, police officers and the press.
Most of all, however, the thrill belonged to the 68 Job Corps recruits, the first wave of students who will have the chance to pick up where life left them hanging, and also for their future peers – the 232 additional students currently being recruited to complete the first official NH Job Corps class.
It’s a term used loosely for the group of students who will reside at the complex, dormitory style, sort of like college, only more like a residential para-military vo-tech prep school – with all the bells and whistles – and lots of rules and supervision.
To qualify for financial eligibility – which means no cost to the student – there must be documented financial need. All the basics are provided, including food, clothing, health care and school supplies at an average cost of about $123 per student per day.
The seven buildings that make up the new campus include dormitories, a gym/recreation center, movie theater, classrooms, a dining hall, and an administration and wellness center. It also features state-of-the-art learning centers and equipment that will be used to train the qualifying students, 16-24 years of age, who will spend an average of eight months to a year there earning a high school diploma or GED while also gaining practical career training.
Job Corps NH is currently solidifying a partnership with the Community College System of New Hampshire, which will expand the training capabilities for those who want to build on the skills they acquired through Job Corps, according to Cassie Gudek, at NH Job Corps Center Business & Community Liaison Director.
Students explore 100+ career paths within auto maintenance, IT, health care, hospitality, culinary arts, construction security and finance. Nationally, upwards of 75 percent of Job Corps graduates go on to successful placements. There are 125 Job Corps centers around the U.S. that have trained, to date, more than 2 million young people.
Established more than 50 years ago, Job Corps has been around long enough to have earned not only a reputation for success but also some criticism, for budget and staff cuts, enrollment freezes and the kinds of issues all institutions must grapple with, especially with a young demographic.
But for Ali Phakos, 19, this is what opportunity feels like.
After the dedication ceremony he was relaxing in the rec room with some new friends he’s made since arriving in late September. He said he hasn’t started classes yet – the first phase of the program, after arrival, is a five-week settling in period that includes developing personal responsibility and job skills, computer literacy, and career counseling. There is also a post-graduation program in place to make sure recruits keep moving in the right direction.
Phakos is excited to get started in the security and protective services program – it’s a one-year program, but he expects to work hard, finish early and go into the military. His first hurdle will be to earn his GED – he grew up in Africa and was placed in an orphanage along with his four siblings, after his mother died.
He explained that he was adopted by a “great” family from Massachusetts and has had a good life. He figures it will only get better from here.
He can’t stop smiling.
“Look at this place – I can’t believe I’m here, Phakos said. “I feel so lucky. Everything is so nice. I’m ready to get started.”
Job Corps is located at 943 Dunbarton Road in Manchester. More information about qualifying requirements for recruits can be found here.
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