Job Corps Students, Alumnae ‘Pay it Forward,’ Helping Each Other Learn Leadership Skills

Michaela Hall & Jane Knowlton
U.S. Forest Service
December 8th, 2015 at 5:00PM

A photo of Shray Jackson, an administrative support specialist in the Forest Service Washington Office, is a graduate of the Potomac Job Corps Center in the District of Columbia. Preparing for a career involves many steps, plus individual motivation as well as help from those who’ve gone before you.

That’s what a group of 60 Harpers Ferry Job Corps students explored recently during a recent training session related to job preparedness for the U.S. Forest Service. Their hearts and minds were focused on advancing their knowledge about Forest Service job opportunities and how to serve others but also on learning how to help themselves. They were not disappointed.

As part of their training, they met with seven Job Corps alumni who now work in the agency’s national office in Washington D.C. who travelled to the Center to talk about their jobs and help mentor the Job Corps students following behind them. Both students and alumnae were part of the Pay it Forward program that focuses on two training objectives: allowing alumni to develop leadership skills to train students and then training students at their Centers.

“If you’re not moving forward, you’re standing still,” said Shray Jackson, an administrative support specialist to the director of the Forest Health Protection staff and an alumnus of the Potomac Job Corps Center in the District of Columbia.

A photo of Anna Reynolds, an administrative assistant in the Forest Service Washington Office. Jackson was motivating students the only way she knows how – from the heart. As she wrapped up her speech, students raised their hands, eager to hear more about her hard journey and ultimate success.

The Pay it Forward program was the brainchild of Clara Johnson, Job Corps Program Liaison for the agency’s Eastern Region. It is part of a Fire and Aviation Management training initiative that provided funding for Johnson to develop a program to showcase wildland firefighting and encourage Job Corps students to pursue Forest Service careers. Johnson included a leadership training component in the training agenda to motivate students to see themselves as leaders and to hold each other accountable for positive behaviors.

When Johnson retired, the program transitioned to the Federally Employed Job Corps Alumni Association. Former Job Corps students who now work for the Forest Service serve as liaisons between the current Job Corps students they mentor and the Forest Service leaders to encourage participation.

The alumni group has now expanded the program to include sections on public speaking, facilitation and audience engagement skills as well as team building and conflict resolution aptitudes.

The Job Corps alumnae also met with student government and dorm leaders at the Center to share what they had learned so they could in turn help other Center students. The alumni group plans to host the program at three more Centers by the end of 2015. It’s their way of making a lasting and positive impact in the Job Corps community by encouraging current students to “pay it forward” to future students.

“Teachers can tell you all day that there is gold at the end of the rainbow, but it’s more believable coming from someone who has been through it before, “said Anna Reynolds, an administrative assistant in the Conservation Education office and a 2009 graduate of the Potomac Job Corps. “I’m participating in this project to give back to the program that helped me get my life together.”