Editor's note: The original version of this article contained incorrect dates and a name error.
Half a century of service to students through the Job Corps program is being celebrated this summer at Blue Ridge Job Corps Center in Marion.
The national Job Corps program was created during the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 as part of the Economic Opportunity Act and signed into law on Aug. 20, 1964 by President Johnson. The first Job Corps center opened in January 1965 in Catoctin, Md.
Marion College closed in the spring of 1967 and Blue Ridge Job Corps Center opened that fall in the former college building. The center will celebrate its 50th year in 2017.
A luncheon for the BRJC Community Council was held Aug. 20 to celebrate Job Corp’s 50th year and to introduce the center’s new director, Suzan Widener, and the new management company, Education Management Corporation (EMC), although EMC is not new to BRJC.
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EMC is now the prime contractor for BRJC, but served as the subcontractor under ResCare since 1998. ResCare is now the subcontractor for EMC.
Valaida Randolph, president and CEO of EMC was introduced at the luncheon and spoke later about the transition of management. She said EMC was awarded the contract because of the company’s experience and good record with ResCare.
Just like EMC, Randolph is also not new to BRJC. She said she worked at the corporate level for RCA while managed the center in the 1970s and she visited the Marion center in 1972. She spoke highly of the community council and its important role with the center and the community.
EMC is a small business, Randolph said, managing a couple Job Corps centers while ResCare is a larger corporation managing more than 13 centers.
One of the first orders of business for BRJC is to return the center to its number-one ranking in the nation, said Randolph. The center’s ranking has fallen to third due to some changes in testing and scoring that the center needs to adjust to, she said.
“It is a challenge but we have to meet that challenge and come up with strategies you can use,” Randolph said.
BRJC is contracted for 192 students. Two graduations are held each year, in August and March. Potential students can find more information at www.recruiting.jobcorps.gov and the BRJC site at blueridge.jobcorps.gov.
“We have been an entity around 50 years so obviously something’s working,” said Widener about the Job Corps program. “We want to continue with our tradition of serving our youth and adjusting training to meet the needs of our students.”
“We hope to take the program even further than where we’re at,” Widener said. “I am honored to have the opportunity to serve as director.”
Widener has been with BRJC 15 years heading up the education and training program under EMC as subcontractor. She started out teaching in a GED classroom that was then combined with a diploma program. A native of Washington County, she worked with youth in public schools in Abingdon and in church.
BRJC partners with schools and community colleges in the area and with businesses to offer more training for students.
“We need a ready workforce and if we don’t have it work goes out of the country,” said Randolph. “We want to make sure our students have the skills needed by the workforce. It starts with Job Corps.”
Students are also involved in the local community through volunteer work as Job Corps is a participating agency in the President’s Council on Volunteer Service and students who complete their service requirements receive a certificate with the presidential seal.
“We are teaching them how to give back so when they go home to their own communities they will get involved and interact where they live,” said Randolph.
Widener said the BRJC students are very involved in the community and can be seen at many civic and county programs and activities. A special resolution was presented to Widener by Herbert “Turk” Johnson, former commander of VFW Post 4667, in recognition of the student volunteers at the 2014 Memorial Day program in Marion.
A resolution of appreciation for BRJC’s community and economic impact on the town was presented by Marion Mayor David Helms at the community council luncheon. Recognition was also given at the Marion Town Council meeting on Aug. 18.