July 20, 2005
BY STEPHANIE REITZ | COURANT STAFF WRITER
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
She plans to train in manufacturing technology, and plans to apply
for a spot in the dormitory that is expected to open later this
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
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
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
"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
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
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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