A Day in the Life: Kathleen

by Secretary Tom Perez on July 21, 2014 · 2 comments

Editor’s note: Aug. 20 will mark 50 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act, which created the Job Corps program. To celebrate 50 years of expanding opportunity for disadvantaged young people, we’ll publish a series of blog posts to share Job Corps’ many successes. This is the first post in the series.

We also want to hear your story. How did Job Corps change your life? Tell us by submitting your story through our Web form here − or share on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram using the hashtag #JobCorps50.

New Stuyahok, Alaska, is a roadless community on the Nushagak River, with a population of about 500 made up primarily of Native Alaskans. In the 1920s and 30s, the people of the village were engaged in herding reindeer for the U.S. government, but as the herd dwindled over the years, fishing and a subsistence lifestyle became the primary economic activity. Stuyahok means “going downriver place,” but for Kathleen, it’s simply “home.”

Kathleen (left) shares her story with Secretary Perez over a lunch prepared by Job Corps students in the culinary program.

Kathleen (left) shares her story with Secretary Perez over a lunch prepared by Job Corps students in the culinary program.

While the community is rich in culture and history, it is difficult there to find the type of work that can serve as a foundation for a middle-class future. After high school, Kathleen supported herself with three part time jobs, helping the local postmaster, stocking inventory at the village’s only store and working as a substitute teacher. She knew that to succeed she would need to develop skills that employers in the Alaska economy were looking for, which brought Kathleen to Palmer and the Alaska Job Corps.

I met Kathleen on a visit to the Job Corps center on Sunday, where she showed me what life is like as an Alaska Job Corps student. I was accompanied by Sen. Mark Begich, and we met Kathleen at her dorm – at 125 Job Corps centers around the country, a majority of students live on-site during their time in the program – before taking the short walk across the grounds for lunch.

Secretary Perez and Kathleen in her classroom

Secretary Perez and Kathleen in her classroom

Kathleen told me about her family and her experience growing up in New Stuyahok. She talked to me about her hunger to find a trade that could get her ahead, and how after high school, she searched for a way to advance her education before discovering Job Corps.  She explained to me that Job Corps has opened her eyes to a vast world of opportunity that she never knew would be possible for a young girl from a remote village. In this place of timeless beauty, Job Corps provided her with 21st-century skills for a 21st-century career while remaining deeply tied to the traditions of her people. While attending the Job Corps program, Kathleen would take a three-hour flight back to New Stuyahok during hunting and fishing seasons to help her family with the work of providing food from the bounty of the land.

After lunch, we toured the electrical engineering classroom where Kathleen developed those 21-century skills. Her instructor, Ben – who I was told is the most popular instructor at the center – called Kathleen “attentive and focused,” and praised her ability to help motivate the students around her. That attention and focus has paid off. In August, Kathleen is graduating from Job Corps and is entering a position working on fiber optics in the telecommunications field.

Kathleen and other Job Corps students in Alaska with Secretary Perez

Kathleen (third from left) with other students, Secretary Perez and Job Corps Center Director Malyn Smith (far left).

I’m grateful to Kathleen for inviting me into her life for a while, and I have enormous faith in her ability to succeed in a challenging new field. I’m also proud of Job Corps. In the almost 50 years since it began, the program has helped 2.7 million young people who didn’t have a lot of advantages in their young lives, and who overcame a lot of hardship to give themselves a shot at opportunity. A day in Kathleen’s life, like that of thousands of Job Corps students around the country, is a day of determination, of resilience and of strength.

Thank you, Kathleen, for inspiring me with your story. You’re going to do great. 

Follow Secretary Perez on Twitter as @LaborSec.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lynne Harris July 23, 2014 at 4:14 pm

What a wonderful opportunity to learn firsthand how Job Corps — in partnership with HBI — impacts lives. We commend you for taking the time to get out in the field to experience the training programs personally. HBI (Home Builders Institute) enjoys a productive partnership with DOL to help youth in their career development plans for work in the construction industry. Kathleen’s story is very powerful and one of many success stories that reveals the options for young people graduating from high school. We have received many accolades about the electrical program in Alaska, and Kathleen’s story proves its success. We’re thrilled that HBI’s Alaska Program Instructor Ben Kainer and his team provided the training and guidance for Kathleen to be able to graduate with a job lined up for her. That’s success all the way around!

2 vijz k November 2, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Admire you Kathleen

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