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City Has New School Just For Jobs

July 20, 2005

Lashana Reaves had a diploma from one of the state's best high schools, but it wasn't enough to help her launch a solid career.

While she stocked the shelves of a local toy store on the overnight shift, the one thing that kept her from quitting in frustration was knowing that, someday, she would be part of the new Hartford Job Corps Academy.

Tuesday was that "someday."

Reaves was among the first 16 students to start classes Tuesday at the academy, a newly built campus of classrooms, hands-on workshops, career counseling centers and recreation facilities on the former Charter Oak Terrace housing project site in Hartford.

The federally funded academy, the second in Connecticut and the ninth in New England, eventually will train up to 200 people at a time in manufacturing, carpentry, nursing, business technology and hospitality jobs.

Before Tuesday, people in Greater Hartford who wanted training from the national Job Corps program had to travel either to New Haven or the Westover center in Chicopee, Mass.

Now, they'll participate in local training and intern with local businesses - and many of them eventually will move into a dormitory at the academy, living there with other students as they progress through phases of the training.

In the second poorest city in America, too many youths have dropped out of school and turned to drug dealing or other crimes because they lack the education, skills or transportation to land and keep good-paying jobs, supporters of the new center say.

"People are telling us that this is a way out for them," academy director Joyce Jackson said. "They are saying, `I want to come out of that community, I don't want to live like that anymore.'"

For such people as Lashana Reaves, enrolling in the Job Corps Academy is a chance to escape the violence of her Hartford neighborhood and focus on the future that she wants to build for herself.

"College was really not for me, but it's so hard to find a job today," said Reaves, 20, a Hartford resident who graduated from Avon High School as part of the Project Choice desegregation program.

She plans to train in manufacturing technology, and plans to apply for a spot in the dormitory that is expected to open later this year.

Job Corps, a nationwide program of the U.S. Department of Labor, was launched in 1964 as part of President Johnson's War on Poverty. Qualified low-income students between 16 and 24 can enroll in the program at no cost, receiving everything from the vocational training to three daily meals, medical and health care, and even a free bus pass.

The Hartford Job Corps Academy is open to U.S. citizens who are high school dropouts or high school graduates needing more vocational training; young parents; or area residents who are homeless, runaways or foster children.

People on probation or parole, or with serious criminal records, are generally not accepted. However, Jackson said they will look at those applicants on a case-by-case basis and perhaps enroll some people who show promise and have a track record of putting their problems behind them.

Andrea Rodriguez, 22, of Hartford, originally planned to attend the Job Corps center in Chicopee. When she became pregnant, however, she stayed in Hartford and joined the waiting list for the local academy.

She recently got her own apartment in the South End building where her mother lives, and her 2-year-old son, Rayshawn, will be among the first children in the academy's child-care center.

She also plans to enroll in GED classes provided on site by the Hartford school district, and will be part of the academy's driver education class.

"I used to drink, I used to smoke, I used to be in the streets, but I knew that there'd be a time when I'd be able to get to the things I wanted to," Rodriguez said of the vocational training. "I knew there's nothing good on the streets. I just want a new beginning for my life."

The center is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, but Hartford-area residents and activists also successfully raised $10 million in seed money for the new academy over the past few years.

"We are so blessed by this community because they wanted this and they raised money to help us reach this day," Jackson said.

Structure is emphasized in the student handbook. Students must wear a uniform of khaki pants and blue polo shirts, follow behavioral rules at all times, and work their way through progressive phases until they graduate.

Openings are still available for local students who want to take the weekday training courses, but a waiting list for the residential spots will not be started until the dormitory opens later this year, Jackson said.

On Tuesday, students were still soaking it all in.

"There's a lot to get used to," said 18-year-old Bianca Ramos of Hartford, gazing around the large cafeteria, whose east-facing glass wall looks out over the dormitory and recreation complex where 136 of the 200 students eventually will live.

For Reaves, Tuesday was the beginning of what she hopes will be an independent life and productive career.

Although she previously spent much of her time caring for her sick mother, her father will do that while Reaves is in training.

Being in Hartford rather than Chicopee also means that she will still be, as she says, "just a five-minute bus ride away if they need me."

"It'll be good for me to be independent. My mom wants me to learn to stand up on my own, and I want to, too," she said.

The Hartford Job Corps Academy is at 100 William "Shorty" Campbell St., off Flatbush Avenue behind the new Charter Oak Marketplace shopping plaza.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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