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Estacada hosts town hall meeting in light of proposed center closure in Mt. Hood National Forest

PMG PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Some attendees of a town hall meeting for Timber Lake Job Corps earlier this week held signs in support of the organization.

Estacada residents held up signs in support of Timber Lake Job Corps during a recent gathering at City Hall.

At a town hall meeting on Tuesday, June 18, a variety of leaders and audience members expressed support for the Civilian Conservation Centers Job Corps programs, nine of which were proposed for deactivation last month.

In May, the U.S. Department of Labor accepted a letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture stating the Forest Service will withdraw from operating Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers. At some Job Corps centers, operations will continue under new contract operators.

Timber Lake Job Corps, on the Mt. Hood National Forest, is one of the centers proposed for deactivation, along with locations in Anaconda, Mont.; Laona, Wis.; Ozark, Ark.; Coeburn, Va.; White Swan, Wash.; Frenchburg, Ky.; Cherokee, N.C.; and Pine Knot, Ky.

Speakers during the June 18 town hall meeting included Bryan Hickman of Timber Lake Job Corps, Dan Mahr from Sen. Jeff Merkley's Office, Ree Armitage from Sen. Ron Wyden's Office, Clackamas County Commissioners Jim Bernard and Ken Humberston, and Estacada Mayor Sean Drinkwine.

Mahr and Armitage noted that both of Oregon's senators are working to prevent the proposed closure. Last week, Merkley and Wyden joined colleagues in introducing legislation to prevent the removal of federal funds from Job Corps centers. The Job Corps Protection Act would block the federal government from using funds in 2019 or 2020 to close any Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers in the United States. It would also prohibit any federal government agency from making changes to agreements that operate Job Corps facilities, which would prevent them from being transferred out of the U.S. Forest Service.

"Our congressional delegation in D.C. is working hard to block this," Mahr said.

In a statement, Merkley noted "We were all caught off guard" by the proposed Job Corps closure.

"We will work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to stop this action," Merkley's statement said. "We must reverse the Trump administration's decision to close the Civilian Conservation Centers."

Armitage noted that Wyden's office has received many calls in support of the Job Corps.

"Simply put, the proposed closure is reckless and wrong," Wyden said in a statement.

Bernard praised the skills that the program allows students to develop.

"(Job Corps) gets kids excited about working with their hands and introduces people to different things," he said. "The key to where the future is going to be is places like Job Corps ... We need those workers. We need those skills."

Humberston praised the program because it "helps make people self-reliant."

"You can bet Clackamas County is going to be at the table on the side of the Job Corps program," he said.

Drinkwine noted that the potential Job Corps closure "is not a partisan issue."

"This is about teaching our children how to make a living," he said.

Hickman encouraged attendees to contact their senators and leaders at the Department of Labor and Department of Agriculture.

"Call your senators and secretaries (Purdue and Acosta)," he said.

'A second home'

Tuesday's town hall also included comments from members of the audience, including Timber Lake Job Corps graduate and employee Ben Fuller, who described the center as his second home.

Fuller and his brothers all attended Job Corps and were encouraged by family to learn all that they could, but also give back to the center.

He noted that Job Corps volunteers in Estacada in a variety of capacities.

"I tell students, you've got to leave something for the next generation."

Timber Lake Job Corps opened in 1964 and currently has 181 students who range in age from 16 to 24.

Along with a high school diploma program, the center offers trade specializations in areas such as automotive, carpentry, culinary arts, electrical, firefighting, office administration, painting and welding. To graduate, students must have their high school diploma, complete a trade certification and earn a primary credential in their trade.

PMG PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Many Estacada residents attended a town hall meeting in support of Timber Lake Job Corps on Tuesday, June 18.

In an interview with the Estacada News after the town hall meeting, Timber Lake Job Corps Diploma Manager Dianne Nelson noted that the center has been unable to receive new students since the potential closure was announced last month.

"It's sad because there's so much need out there," Nelson said. "The ones who need are services are being denied them."

The center has approximately 50 students currently working toward high school diplomas. They typically receive around 24 new attendees each month.

Vocational manager Gary Payne said that one of the most beneficial aspects of the program for students is the hands-on training they receive.

"Where else would kids without family to show them learn electric, or how to work on cars?" he asked.

Nelson appreciates the way in which the center caters to the needs of students.

"One student asked me (to teach) cursive writing, because it wasn't offered in public school," she said. "We see what the students needs, and we will find a way to offer that ... we offer what they need, when they need it."

Moving forward

A petition in support of Job Corps was circulated around Estacada last week and received more than 600 signatures. Public comment on the Federal Register's proposal for the future of Job Corps is available here. Comments will be accepted through Monday, July 1.

Mayor Drinkwine expressed confidence in Estacada's ability to rally forward.

"We will save Job Corps," he said. "That's the kind of community we are. We don't go out without a fight."

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