Happy anniversary

CASSADAGA – On Aug. 22, 1978, a group of 26 young men and women stepped off a bus and into the hilly countryside of Cassadaga. Focused on their own priorities, goals and emotions, they probably did not realize the significance of their trip to Cassadaga. These were the first 26 students to arrive at the Cassadaga Job Corps Center, and they, along with the 45 charter staff members, pioneered a training program that has since helped more than 8,000 young people launch their careers.

A celebration marking the 35th anniversary will be held at the Center on Thursday from 1-3 p.m. The community is welcome to attend.

From training programs and buildings to styles of dress and hairdos, the pictures in the original newsletter, The Grape Vine, highlighted the obvious growth and development the Center has undergone in its 35-year history. The Center’s original training offerings were carpentry/painting, brick masonry, electrical, plumbing, office machine repair, culinary arts, stenography, typing and nursing assistant.

Come forward 35 years and some of these original training programs are no longer viable career pathways. Academy Director Ann Anderson credits many things for the success of the program, but a big factor has been the Center’s ability to adapt and reflect the needs of the labor market in the training which Job Corps offers. Even the Center programs, which have withstood the test of time at the Center in construction and healthcare, have adapted and changed to reflect what employers expect to see of incoming employees. The addition of employer recognized credentials, such as OSHA 10, RAMSET, CPR and first aid as well as state-issued certifications, has resulted in improved placement rates and better wages for graduates.

Dean McMullen worked for the Singer Corporation when they opened the Cassadaga Job Corps Center, and was one of the first staff on-board as they made preparations to accept that first group. Transferred from the Glenmont Job Corps Center, which opened just prior to Cassadaga, McMullen served as the Vocational Supervisor. He remembers vividly the process of hiring and bringing the new staff on-board.

He reported “a candidate for a construction instructor position revealed he had no formal teaching experience or training. He did say though that he loved working with kids. How could I not give him the job. That’s what it was all about; focusing on the kids and making sure that everyone was there for them.”

McMullen also recalled the space that was utilized for classes – construction classes were located in the basement of the recreation building and academic classes were located in the basement of the dorms. He recalled that there was a math, reading, writing and GED class. The current academic offerings still include the reading, writing and math, but these classes have been modified to meet the demands of the new high school equivalency exam. In addition to the essential academic programs, the Center offers a high school diploma class in conjunction with Penn-Foster and a college program.

A college program in the early days was started in partnership with Buffalo State University, requiring students to be bused from the Center to Buffalo for classes every day. The college program now works primarily with Jamestown Community College, providing some students a chance to complete a degree in their allotted time with Job Corps. McMullen also shared that prior to the acceptance of students, he actually resided in one of the dormitory buildings, moving out just a few days before students arrived on campus.

As the Center grew and progressed, new buildings were added or acquired. In the mid-1980s, the old school building in the town of Stockton was acquired to create a central building to house academic classes and trailers were modified and placed on the campus to house the vocational training program. Students were bused daily over the hill and into the little school building in Stockton. This makeshift classroom set-up carried on until 1996, when the new, centralized Career Development Building was opened on campus.

For the first time in the Center’s history, the facility had a centralized building to house academic and construction training programs on Job Corps’ grounds. The healthcare program was still taught from the basement of a dormitory until the addition of an LPN program necessitated adding a state-of- the-art facility to teach healthcare occupations in 2005. In addition to the classrooms, the Center has also seen the addition of two new dormitories and the demolition of three buildings that were just not feasible to maintain. A new women’s dormitory was built in 1988, replacing the old Children’s Pavillion, which was part of the Newton Memorial Hospital. The Career Development building now occupies the space once used by the Children’s Pavillion. In 2006, the Center opened another dormitory building, replacing two more dormitory buildings, which were beyond their prime. Moving ahead, the Center is looking forward to the addition of a new cafeteria within a year. This new dining facility will remove the function of food service from the current administration building; a function this building has served since 1923. The dining hall had been used by the hospital, the Assumptionist Fathers and all 35 years Job Corps has occupied the space.

Driving the program and its success has been a dedicated group of staff. A review of the Center’s current leadership team reveals the Center promotes from within and really does grow its own. All members of the leadership team started their Job Corps career in a frontline position. Most began working in the dorms as residential advisors or as teachers. The dedicated, experienced staff of the Center provides a consistent learning and living environment for all those who attend, allowing students to focus on their career goals.

Mary Jane DiPietro, a Cassadaga staff member in 1978, confirmed that in the beginning, it really was all about the students.

She said, “It was an exciting time. Only a few people were brought in that had Job Corps experience, so we all worked together and formed a strong bond as a team of staff.”

She reported that many staff volunteered numerous hours in working with the fledgling program to provide recreational activities and community events. DiPietro recalled volunteering in recreation to take special trips to Niagara Falls and other area attractions, as well as coaching a girl’s softball team. These staff members helped hold each other and students accountable to the program’s missions. The original charter staff of the Center touched off a tradition of caring, compassionate instruction, which focused on accountability and workplace readiness. The formula is largely the same today, with many new rules and tried and true methods now incorporated.

Another tradition carried on throughout the Center’s history is service to the surrounding community. A look through the old newsletters reveals that one of the first community service projects was a carpentry project to create back boards and knee splints for the ski patrol at Cockaigne Ski Resort. The newsletters are peppered with stories of ways that the Center has helped municipalities, agencies and individuals in need. DiPietro remembered Carpentry Instructor Roy Onnen creating a float for a community parade. The Center organized a drill team in the early days and took part in local parades to help make the community aware of the program and provide the students with a chance to take part in a community event.

Service to community is still a central part of the Center’s mission today, providing over a thousand hours of community service every year.

An active group of neighbors, businesses and community leaders have made up the Center’s Community Relations Council since the Center opened. Many members have remained engaged with the Center and its students for many years, with the longest-serving member, Charles St. George, serving since its inception. Many people from the community volunteer time to tutor and provide special programs, such as financial literacy class and a knitting club.

Local businesses work with the Center to hire students both in long-term employment and internships to help provide experience and enhance skills.

As the Center prepares for its future, it certainly will remember its past. The staff, students, volunteers and employers of the past, the present and the future make the Cassadaga Job Corps Center the unique and special place that it is.

Anyone interested in learning more, volunteering or joining the Community Relations Council are encouraged to contact Adam Dolce, business and community liaison, by calling 595-4237 or by emailing dolce.adam@jobcorps.org.