When I tell my students I was in their shoes 23 years ago, they don’t believe me. But I was. When I was a teenager, things in my life began to get hard – really hard. My mother had a massive stroke a week before I turned 17, leaving me to be her only caregiver. I dropped out of high school to work and care for her as best as I could. I went from being a teenager who looked to my mother for everything, to becoming the main source of support in our home. I had to grow up very quickly. Since I couldn’t complete high school, I decided that Job Corps was a good fit for me. I let my experience there mold me into who I am today. I am grateful that I did, or else I wouldn’t have been able to survive. I want the youth to know that no matter how bad their circumstances might be, Job Corps can help them turn their lives around.
I did two programs at Job Corps. I was enrolled in business clerical (now clerical occupations) and carpentry. For most people, these trades are completely different. But for me, they’re not. My mother worked in a clerical position and my father was a contractor. I liked being social and enjoyed using the technology in the clerical program, but I also liked the hands-on approach that carpentry offered. It was the combination of both that allowed me to learn about my parents’ professions, as well as find out about my own strengths and weaknesses. I also learned how to budget and how to cope with the stresses of life. Job Corps truly taught me everything I needed to know to succeed in life.
Later in my adult years, life kicked me down again. My father, who lived on the Turks and Caicos Islands, passed away in 2018. When I returned from the funeral, I received an email from my employer telling me that I had been laid off. I applied for unemployment, only for it to be contested over and over again. I frantically searched for jobs, but to no avail. The bills kept piling up, and I eventually lost my home. I remember seeing an ad for a guidance counselor position at the Philadelphia Job Corps Center, which is now run by Management & Training Corporation. I love working in any capacity, and since I attended that center as a teenager, I applied. A few days after I lost my home, I got a call saying that I got the job. Although my situation was very challenging, I was excited to give back to the center that had given me so much when I needed it the most.
I am now the transition readiness specialist and student government advisor at Philly Job Corps, and I love helping students as they move into the workforce. I encourage them to remember that just because their path might not be as straight as someone else’s, it doesn’t mean their path is any less valuable. I love seeing my students have little victories that encourage them to keep going no matter their circumstances.
I have learned that Job Corps is my safe space. I have always found solace from peers, instructors, and now co-workers. It has been amazing to teach students that they can be successful, no matter what the world tells them. Job Corps is more than just getting technical training and a GED. On top of education, you learn a variety of life skills and how to be yourself. It has helped me get through my darkest times, so I encourage anyone who might need some extra support to enroll and see how Job Corps can change their life.
Felicia Jones is the transition readiness specialist at the Philadelphia Job Corps Center. She has been with the center since 2018.