After graduating from high school, Ranson, West Virginia, native Sara Simpson enrolled at nearby Shepherd University with plans to pursue nursing. But she had to work two jobs just to afford tuition and struggled to keep up with her coursework.
The juggling act became too much and she had to take a break. Her mother, who worked at the Harpers Ferry Job Corps Center, encouraged her to apply to Job Corps – a Labor Department program that provides free job training and education for young people.
It was a smart move. While enrolled at the Harpers Ferry center, Sara focused on business technology, now known as office administration. She completed the program in just three months and excelled during her time at the center.
Sara said the staff and instructors encouraged her to continue her education − especially the late Dr. James Leverett, who served as the academic manager during her time there.
She followed that advice and re-enrolled at Shepherd. In recognition of her hard work, Sara received the first James Keith Leverett Scholarship after graduating from Job Corps, a factor that she says helped motivate her to keep at her studies. In fact, Dr. Leverett continued to be her cheerleader all the way through school. “When I went back to school, he was one of the biggest supporters next to my mom − he was there when I graduated,” she said.
Not long after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in social work in May 2013, Sara began working as a care coordinator for East Ridge Health Systems in Martinsburg. She is currently a crisis supervisor for mental health and substance abuse there.
“After I accepted a job with East Ridge Health Systems, I felt like I needed to go back to the Job Corps center and thank the staff and instructors,” said Sara. “Had it not been for the skills I gained on center − basic office skills, social skills, even time management − my college classes would have been extremely difficult.”
Today she works with people who need immediate help, including serving on the response team for a 24-hour crisis services telephone line. She also provides detox and rehab referrals for inpatient treatment, and attends mental hygiene hearings to ensure people who need hospitalization receive mental health treatment.
“Knowing I'm helping make a difference to people far exceeds the stress” of working with challenging clientele, Sara said, adding, “I wouldn’t have a job I love today if it weren’t for the foundation set at Job Corps.”
Sara plans to pursue a master’s degree in social work and eventually earn her Ph.D. Her goal is to become a therapist for children who have experienced severe trauma in their lives.
Editor’s note: Job Corps trains more than 60,000 students at 126 centers in all 50 states. Interested in more information? Visit jobcorps.gov or call 800-733-5627.
The “DOL Working for You” series highlights the Labor Department’s programs in action. View other blog posts in the series here.
Tiffany Koebel is a public affairs specialist for the Labor Department.