Lawmakers attempt to keep Blackwell Job Corps Center open

LAONA, Wis (WSAW) -- After decades of serving low-income youth from around the state of Wisconsin, the Blackwell Jobs Corps Center in Laona is losing its funding and is scheduled to be shut down. However, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing to keep it open before doors close in September.

Since 1964 the facility has given hundreds of Wisconsin youth an opportunity to learn job traits they might not receive elsewhere. Currently, there are only two Job Corps centers in the state, the other location is in Milwaukee.

“This is one of the top performing Job Corps centers in the country. It’s in the top 15 out of 125,” explained U.S. Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin.

The federally funded center is free for participating youth and takes roughly two years to complete. Students stay on campus in a safe environment away from any troubles they might have endured before coming to Job Corp. While on campus the staff provides counseling and guidance to ensure successful completion of the program.

"We offer education and training to youth between the ages of 16 and 24,” said Lorie Almazan who is a guidance counselor at the facility. “Students can earn a diploma and learn technical skills like masonry, welding, construction, carpentry, and health occupations."

After graduation, the staff continues to help students find employment. But in May staff received an email stating that they will lose funding and students will have until the end of August to relocate.

“Our students would either need to finish their program if they are close enough to finish or they would have to transfer to another job corps that offers their training,” stated Annie Schenkoske who is a guidance counselor at the facility.

The move comes after the Trump administration announced plans to cut more than 1,100 jobs from the Forest Service Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers Program. U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin says she is fighting to keep it open.

“I introduced a bipartisan measure last week that would prevent the USDA and the Labor Department from using federal funds to dismantle Job Corps,” stated Baldwin. “Those funds were appropriated to run Job Corps facilities. It's frustrating when Congress sets aside funding to run a really important project and then the administration wants to use those very same funds to end that project."

Senator Baldwin says she's been in contact with many of the youth enrolled in the program and she's urging them to send her letters and continue business as usual.