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Job Corps program offers fresh starts for students

Rodney Washington Jr. laughs while waiting for the bus with his mom, Phyllis Wilson, before his departure to the Old Dominion Job Corps center in Lynchburg on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. (GRIFFIN MOORES / THE FREE LANCE-STAR)

Rodney “R.J.” Washington Jr. hugged his mom, then his dad and his little brother one last time.

Then the 16-year-old from Caroline County hopped on a bus bound for Lynchburg—and a big opportunity.

On Tuesday, he and a few others from the Fredericksburg area left for the Job Corps, a national program run by the U.S. Department of Labor and, locally, the Virginia Workforce Center.

The program is aimed at students who are not succeeding in public school, but don’t want to drop out either.

R.J. endured a rough childhood before nearly failing ninth grade, his mother said. He went to the county’s alternative learning center, but that didn’t help him either.

Then he heard about the Job Corps program from his aunt.

He told his mother, Phyllis Wilson, that he wanted to enroll. She herself is a graduate of Job Corps. Wilson enrolled at Old Dominion Job Corps in Monroe right after she graduated from high school and studied nursing. Today, she’s a nurse at Ashland Nursing & Rehab Center, where she has worked for the past seven years.

Rodney Washington Jr.’s younger brother, De’Amorti Washington, and mother, Phyllis Wilson, watch as his Greyhound bus pulls out of the Fredericksburg station sending him on his way to the Old Dominion Job Corps center in Lynchburg on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013.

“I thought it would be a good opportunity and I took it,” Wilson said about her own experience in the Job Corps.

She instantly supported her son’s plans, since the program helped her so much. In addition to receiving job training, R.J. will have the chance to earn his high school diploma—and experience some independence.

“I think the program would be good for him because he will be away,” his mother said.

R.J. said he was excited to go.

“My mom went there, and she really inspired me,” he said.

In addition to core academics, R.J. will learn a trade that will help him get a job when he completes the program, which also imparts job search skills, lessons in personal responsibility, career planning and post-graduation guidance.

R.J. has chosen to focus on three trades that fit together: facility and apartment maintenance, painting and plumbing.

“I just don’t like when stuff is broken,” said R.J., who likes to fix things.

Virginia hosts three Job Corps centers: The Blue Ridge facility in Marion, where women study professions related to medicine; the Flatwoods Center in Coeburn, where students learn about construction trades, like carpentry and welding; and the Old Dominion Center, where R.J. will study.

The facility just north of Lynchburg offers instruction in a variety of trades, such as automotive repair, electrical wiring, landscaping, pharmacy technician and others.

“We want to give them all the skills they need so they can be self-sufficient,” said Sherry Milner, an outreach and admissions manager with Virginia Job Corps.

She said the national Job Corps program has enrolled more than 1.6 million students since it began in 1964. Students can enroll any time and can stay in the program for up to two years.

R.J.’s counselor for the program, Paul Thompson, works with students individually to see if they are fit for Job Corps. He said when they come to him, they have to be motivated and serious.

R.J. said he wants to set an example for his younger brother, De’Amorti, who is 13.

“The only reason I was nervous was thinking about my family,” he said. “I know they’ll be missing me, but at the same time, I’ll be proud.”

He’s walking into the center—a fresh start—with a positive attitude.

“I always told my mom that I’m a little soldier and don’t right forget it,” he said. “And a soldier survives.”

Robyn Sidersky 540/374-5413


To be eligible for the Job Corps, students must:

Be between the ages of 16 and 24

Be from a home that is considered “low income”

Be free from serious behavior problems and/or outstanding court issues

Be drug- and alcohol-free upon arrival at a Job Corps center and remain so while enrolled

Abstain from any acts of violence

For more information, call 800/ 733-JOBS (5627) or visit

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