Fort Simcoe Job Corps west of White Swan has provided hands-on job training to youths 16 to 24 for more than half a century, but now it’s headed for closure.
The shutdown is part of a cost-saving move by the federal government to bring in contractors to run 16 Job Corps centers now operated by the U.S. Forest Service in rural areas and close nine, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Labor. Fort Simcoe is on the proposed list for closure.
There are 25 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers operated by the U.S. Forest Service in rural areas within or near forestlands. The program was created in 1964 by Sargent Shriver as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty.
There are 123 Job Corps programs nationwide.
On Friday, the U.S. Department of Labor accepted a letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the Forest Service would no longer operate the program. The proposed shutdowns are expected in September.
Walt Johnston, vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees, accuses President Donald Trump of directing his Cabinet to sidestep Congress in the matter.
“He’s directly impacting his base, and this will have an impact come next election,” Johnston said Monday.
The proposed move is drawing the ire of some members of Congress, including Washington state Republican Reps. Dan Newhouse and Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
“This misguided decision is a betrayal of the administration’s commitment to bring prosperity to rural America and the rural communities of Washington state. Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers provide young people with technical training and the opportunity to learn skills applicable throughout their lives, all while providing assistance in the regions that need it most,” Newhouse and McMorris said in a joint statement.
Backed by the foothills of the Cascades, Fort Simcoe Job Corps is deep within the Yakama Reservation just west of rural White Swan.
There, anywhere from 140 to 170 students learn about heavy equipment operation, auto mechanics, masonry and culinary arts. Students stay in dorms and arise at 6 a.m. to begin their hands-on training each day.
The school has built a reputation of plucking at-risk youths from underserved areas and helping them acquire skills and credentials to set their lives on a productive track.
Students who graduate receive up to $1,000 for transitional expenses and are typically placed in a job anywhere across the country prior to leaving the school. Job Corps follows graduating students for one year to assure they are successful.
Attached to the Forest Service, Job Corps students have provided vital assistance in helping manage public natural resources, recreation areas and responding to natural disasters, including wildfires and hurricanes.
More than 3,360 students participated in fire assessments — about 400,000 hours of service — during the height of fire season last year, according to a letter from the American Federation of Government Employees opposing the move.
Students also provided about 5,000 hours of support in response to Hurricane Harvey, the letter said.
Fort Simcoe students have been key to several Yakima Valley projects, providing free labor for nonprofit projects. Several years ago, students built the brick building that houses the Toppenish food bank.
Other projects include the construction of Harlan Landing and Sarg Hubbard Park within the Yakima Greenway.
Students built an awning for a community garden in Wapato, poured a concrete slab for a skate park in White Swan and constructed dugouts and backstops at a baseball field for Naches Valley High School.
“All the Job Corps have the same impact as Fort Simcoe on their local communities,” Johnston said.
“I have visited Fort Simcoe many times and we work together closely.”