By DIANE R. CHODAN
OBSERVER Staff Writer
CASSADAGA - Ever since the Cassadaga Job Corps Center opened 34 years ago, there has been a Community Relations Council (CRC). Indeed, the seeds for the council were sown even before the formal opening of the Center.
OBSERVER Photo by Diane R. Chodan
Left to right: Jake Proper, newest Community Relations Council member, his grandfather, Charles St. George, longest serving Community Relations Council member, and Robert Benjamin, Director of Career Development at the most recent CRC dinner.
Charles St. George, mayor of Fredonia at that time, remembers community opposition to plans for the center. He said, "There was a petition against locating the center in the area. From the beginning, I thought we should work together."
St. George has been with the council from its very beginning and continues to attend meetings.
Dan Bauman of Stockton, who was employed at the State University College at Fredonia in the Education Department at the time, also remembers the opposition. He recalls, "Sam Denton (superintendent of schools at Cassadaga Valley Central School) and I were trying to get people in the community to see what they were objecting to."
Bauman recalls open houses and dinners put on by the Culinary Arts Department at the school. As time went on, the students did a number of service projects. Bauman remembers that the sign for the Catholic Church in Cassadaga was made by Job Corps students. He also remembers park work and other contributions made by the students over the years. Bauman was president of the council around 1987.
Joan Josephson, former OBSERVER staff writer, who was employed in public relations for the Job Corps when it opened recalled, "The Community Relations Council was initiated by Kermit Berry, the first director. His idea was to bring people in the community to Job Corps and take Job Corps out to the community."
Berry did this by inviting leaders in the community to serve on the council.
Current treasurer of the council, Lorraine Courson, who was the postmaster of Cassadaga when the Cassadaga Center was established, also remembers the opposition of the community to the center when it began. For her, it has been interesting to witness the changes at Job Corps, including the changes of contractors and directors.
She said, "There is a nice interaction between the students and the community at the dinners." She also appreciates the assistance of students who rake leaves for seniors in the community and work on the Walk Around the Lake for the Cassadaga Library. She called the center "a real asset to the community."
Past president and current council member, Trudy Coulcher, recalls that she belonged to the Cassadaga Branch Library Association (a friends of the library group). Helene Weinburger, who at one time also served as Chairwoman of the council, came to a meeting looking for people to tutor the Job Corps students. After volunteering to tutor, Coulcher joined the council.
She said, "I enjoy the meetings - no pressure and a good way to stay informed. I have seen many success stories. I remember when we were first tutoring, a young man from Rochester telling us how his cousin and some friends had been killed while dealing drugs. When the police came to his mother's house and shot out the TV, he said that was a wakeup call for him to join the Job Corps. ... Over the years, I've been on my soapbox telling people that these are not kids there as an alternative to prison; they get paid; they are able to get away from bad home situations; they become young people with more self confidence; and they will be able to get and hold a job."
According to current business-community liaison Adam Dolce, each Job Corps Center now has to have a community relations council. Certain groups such as law enforcement, business, civic leaders, staff, and students are required to be represented. Once that mandate is fulfilled, the actual functioning of the council can vary from center to center. At Cassadaga, the group and their role has evolved over time.
Job Corps Center Director, Ann Anderson, who was a reading teacher when the center first opened, has seen changes in the council. She relates that membership of the council began to expand in the 1990s. The business-community liasion then, Misty Sack, attracted the participation of Chautauqua County agencies, residents, employers, clergy, and local educators. Rosters from the meetings show as many as 50 people visiting for the evening. Key to the growth was the inclusion of students at the meeting.
"Rather than just hearing about the Job Corps stories from various administrators, participants learned first hand from the students the merits of the program," said Anderson.
Dolce pointed out that this interaction is beneficial for the students too. "Rather than have the students sit together, we place them at tables with the community members. This challenges them to step out of their comfort zone, and is important to their social development." In some cases, students have been hired because of a favorable impression made on a community participant.
When Sack was promoted, Janet Forbes became the community liaison. She introduced many new health care linkages, reinforcing the Center's move to a health care cluster training site. Since numbers of members and diversity of representation grew, Forbes offered the opportunity to attendees to make announcements at the conclusion of the meeting concerning events being sponsored by different groups.
Dolce, who recently became the community liaison, has began including a sheet with each agenda indicating the contributions made by the Community to Job Corps and the services the staff and students provide to the community. Students volunteer all over the community, from the walk around the lake to support the Cassadaga Library to sponsoring blood drives for the American Red Cross.
Anderson said, "Outcomes from the successful partnership have been numerous for the campus including: tutoring, recreational programs, a center library, scholarship programs, referrals for staff employment, referrals for student enrollment, job placement, internships, invitations to worship, opportunities for volunteerism ... what an evolution from a small group of hardworking pioneers who helped get Job Corps started amidst naysayers and challenges to a large network of individuals who are engaged with students and observing first-hand the marvels of the training program they support."
"On behalf of our staff and students, our operator Career Systems Development Corporation, and the National Job Corps Program, I want to thank all the Volunteers who have given us countless hours of time and support over the last 34 years to help us exceed our goals of preparing young adults to become good citizens and members of the workforce."
Dolce said that new members of the council are always welcome. He can be contacted at 595-4237 or Dolce.Adam@jobcorps.org.
Coincidentally, the newest member of the community relations council is Jake Proper, a social studies teacher at Falconer Central School. His grandfather is Charles St. George, probably the longest serving member of this council. That bodes well for the future.
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