While fishing at Timber Lake Job Corps, Ben Fuller mapped out a course for the rest of his life.
"I planned my future at that lake," said Ben, who attended the program from 1983-85 and has worked at the center for more than three decades.
"I told myself I'd buy a new truck at the end of Job Corps, and in six years, I'd buy a house. All of that happened while I was sitting at that lake," Ben said.
For the Mississippi native and four of his brothers, attending Job Corps in the Pacific Northwest was a family tradition. Henry Fuller attended Tillamook Job Corps in the early 1970s; Lee Fuller attended Angell Job Corps in the early 1970s; Colmon Fuller attended Springdale Job Corps from 1979-81; and Carl Fuller attended Timber Lake Job Corps in 1987.
Tucked in the Mt. Hood National Forest near Estacada, Timber Lake Job Corps was one of nine Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers proposed for closure by the federal government in May. However, last month it was announced that the closures would be reversed.
Members of the Fuller family were happy to hear the good news about Timber Lake and other centers.
"I was very glad. I was hurting when they said it was going to shut down," Carl said.
"It was emotional because I pretty much grew up there," Ben added.
'A Changing Generation'
Job Corps helped the Fuller family move beyond poverty in their hometown of Clinton, Miss. Colmon, Ben and Carl were inspired to attend the program after their older brothers Henry and Lee shared their positive experiences.
"They set the bar for us to follow," said Ben. "We saw the success they found, and we realized we had to get out there to do what we had to do."
The Fullers were raised by their mother and grandmother, in what they described as a shotgun home — a narrow, rectangular house. Though money was tight, there was no shortage of family support.
"We wanted to be the difference and make a change," Colmon said. "Our mom and grandma made big sacrifices, and pushed us to become someone and do something with our lives. The opportunities in Mississippi are not many. We realized we had to go out and find it."
The Fullers were raised with a strong work ethic that helped them through Job Corps and other endeavors.
"We raised vegetables, and if you didn't work in the garden, you didn't eat," Ben recalled. "As kids, we mowed grass and picked berries."
"It kept us out of trouble," Colmon added.
The Fullers left Mississippi because of the racial segregation they experienced in the area.
"We came from an all black community and all-black school. Down south, you couldn't associate with whites. You had to look at the ground," Ben said. "It was a changing generation, and I knew it wasn't right. My grandma worked for the chief of police, and he used to tell her we needed to leave because we were challenging the Jim Crow (laws) ... One by one, we did. We wanted better."
Once they arrived at Job Corps, they were surprised at the differences in culture.
"At Timber Lake, I was blown away. I was in an environment where I could associate with people of a different race," Ben said. "I could go to school with them, and eat with them."
Along with a high school diploma program, Job Corps students have the opportunity to specialize in a trade, such as automotive, carpentry, culinary arts, electrical, firefighting, office administration, painting or welding. Colmon studied automotive, Ben studied welding and Carl studied carpentry.
Ben and Colmon have worked at Timber Lake for 33 and 20 years, respectively, and Carl works as a carpenter. As students in the program, they appreciated the chance to develop new skills and sometimes worked on weekends.
"I thought I had stumbled into gold," Ben said.
Carl, who began working in his field shortly after completing Job Corps, added that one of the most valuable elements of the program was "being able to leave with a trade and go to work."
The brothers also appreciated the sense of community they found at Job Corps.
During Ben's time at Timber Lake, students wanted to host a dance. Because the center was not co-ed at the time, they invited women from neighboring programs.
"We had to make them feel special, so we built an arch with flowers and brought them roses and teddy bears," Ben recalled. "When we would play sports at the other centers, they would say 'Timber Lake has the real gentlemen.'"
The Fullers often mention the importance of leaving something for the next generation, when discussing their time at Job Corps.
"You've got to reach back and pull the next guy on," Colmon said.
During his time as a Job Corps student, Colmon was involved with the Big Brothers program, which helped those new to the program find their footing. It also emphasized service at the center and the surrounding community.
One winter, Colmon spent time clearing the driveways of the center's neighbors. When they wanted to pay him, he turned down the offer.
"I just wanted to give back, and put that in the minds of the other students," he said.
Though his older brothers were nearby, Colmon typically stayed at the center during weekends.
"I looked at those guys (at the center) as my family as well," he said.
While working at Timber Lake, Colmon and Ben strive to emphasize the value of helping others to their students.
Job Corps attendees assist in many capacities around Estacada, including landscaping, painting and maintenance around town; volunteering at the Summer Celebration, Upper Clackamas Whitewater Festival and at local parades; and hosting elementary school students for an end-of-the-school-year fishing trip. Additionally, forestry and firefighting students help with trail restoration, prescribed burns and a variety of other duties.
In 2018, students across the Job Corps program spent 357,824 hours fighting fires.
Ben and Colmon appreciate being able to help students while they're at the Timber Lake center.
"By us coming back, we're able to give them the insight and expectations of Job Corps," Ben said, noting that they encourage those in the program to have both short-term and long-term goals. "There's never a dull moment. Some students come in, and you hold them accountable, and that's the first time they've encountered that. Sometimes they don't like us at first, but they come around."
The Fullers noted that serving the community is just as important for students today as it was when they attended the program.
"You've got to leave something for the next generation," Colmon said. "As long as students do that, Timber Lake will be there for a long time."
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