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(Neb)-Chadron-Area Residents Urged To Help Save Job Corps Center  Listen

By: John Axtell Posted at: 06/04/2019 12:03 PM
CHADRON -  Chadron community leaders are trying to rally support for the Pine Ridge Job Corps Center, one of 16 operated by the U-S Forest Service slated to be transferred to the Dept of Labor, where it would be operated by a contractor.

      While the center would not be closed, the current staff members are federal employees of the Forest Service and their positions are scheduled to end with the end of the agency's fiscal year on Sept 30.

      Based on the history of Job Corps centers with private contractors, the replacement jobs would pay much less - some possibly without benefits - and the extensive community service work done by the students would end.

     Pine Ridge Job Corps Center students have already put in nearly 15,000 hours of volunteer work so far this year on community service projects involving carpentry, maintenance, painting, and welding. Students also worked more than 32,000 hours over the past 2 years on forest fires, either as fire fighters or fire camp support.

      Chadron City Council member and public school teacher Cheryl Welch used last night's council meeting to call attention to the situation. Welch urged residents to contact Nebraska's congressional delegation and ask them to work to stop the planned changes from taking effect.

     PLAY SOUNDBITE

Northwest Nebraska Development Corporation executive director Deb Cottier has sent a personal letter to local media making a similar plea.

    Cottier writes that "it looks as though a lot of decisions have been made without any public input, dropping this latest bombshell on the employees just before Memorial Day weekend (and) without so much as a personal conversation with the directors to soften the blow."

      Cottier calls the Pine Ridge center "a special learning place that needs to be maintained," and that the planned transfers affects the entire country, not just this region.

     She also points out that under federal law, the Job Corp staffers can't even speak publicly on the proposal or fight for their jobs - making it vital that others do that for them by calling members of Congress and telling them the decision needs to be re-visited.

       LETTER BY DEB COTTIER

June 1, 2019
Dear Editor,
In the late 60’s there were many programs initiated at the federal level to assist in what was referred to as the war on poverty. As you might suspect, some programs were more successful than others.

One, in particular that has seen great success in our area is the Job Corps education system. Pine Ridge Job Corps, specifically. The mission was, and is today, to assist young people who do not have the opportunity, skills, or background to successfully navigate traditional schooling.

These young people may be from a different culture, a different country or just come from such a dysfunctional background they don’t ’fit in’, so they quit school, fall through the cracks, get into trouble and become a huge drain on lots of resources where ever they live.

If they are fortunate enough to find Job Corps, they can get an education, socialization, cultural awareness, learn skills and become better citizens (i.e. they get a job and pay taxes). Is there a cost to this program? Of course there is. But the investment is a bargain in the larger scheme of federal funding when compared to the benefits.

First, the young person gets another chance at a better life – and I don’t know how you put a price on that. Second, business gets a skilled, trained potential employee when they graduate. Third, the communities in which Job Corps Centers are located receive tremendous benefit from Job Corps labor on government owned property and are allowed to utilize the corps men and women as interns while they are here.

Fourth, the employees of the Center are members of the community spending their salaries (in Chadron about $4.1 million annually) on houses, taxes, retail purchases, cars, services, food and a whole lot more. They are part of our community and send their kids to our schools, attend our churches and volunteer in our clubs and organizations. And finally, businesses in our community have a great customer in Pine Ridge Job Corps (PRJC) Center.

Now, the government has decided to shut down a third of those centers outright, and propose the remaining centers are transferred to a different agency, which will ‘contract out’ the services currently being delivered by professionals at PRJC. This is all in the name of financial savings, to be accomplished in 4 months.

We have seen this effort before, and our community has rallied to help save PRJC. It may be time to do that again. However, it looks as though a lot of decisions have been made without any public input, dropping this latest bombshell on the employees just before Memorial Day weekend, without so much as a personal conversation with the directors to soften the blow. It was handled very poorly, as far as I can see, and these long time government servants deserve better.

Having served on both the Community Relations and Industry Relations committees, having toured and hosted hundreds of people on tours at that Center; having had the pleasure of speaking at their graduation numerous times, I am speaking from my heart and my own observation – this is a special learning place that needs to be maintained.

Whatever we need to do to convince those who have some decision making authority, we will try to do. It is something that affects the entire country, not just our region. We have to speak up on behalf of the PRJC employees, as their hands are tied. They cannot fight for their own jobs. I intend to do what I can. I hope others will join me. Call your Congressman or US Senator and tell them this decision needs to be re-visited.

Deb Cottier
428 N Chadron Ave.
Chadron, NE


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