Private reactions reveal impact the proposed closure of Pine Knot Job Corps Center will have on community and its residents.
By Eugenia Jones
With the Pine Knot Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center being one of the nine centers nation-wide targeted for closure in September 2019, Kenneth Barclay and Sharon Powell, both U.S. Forest Service Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) employees at the Pine Knot Job Corps Center, agreed to speak to “The Voice” as private individuals, not on behalf of any government agencies, about their personal feelings regarding the closure. Both Barclay and Powell are members of the National Federation of Federal Employees-a diverse union representing a large number of federal government employees working diligently to prevent closure of the Centers.
“We are here to speak strictly as private citizens” Barclay stated. “The ramifications of closing the Job Corps CCC Center is far-reaching not only for myself and other employees but for McCreary County and other communities as well. McCreary County is our home, and the proposed shutdown of the Pine Knot Center will be devastating.”
Since he is a graduate of a Civilian Conservation Corps Job Corps Center in Oregon, Barclay has a long history with the program. As a young person, Barclay was pretty much homeless with no job prospects when he joined Civilian Conservation Center Job Corps in 1994.
“The Job Corps saved my life,” Barclay declared.
Entering the Job Corps with 4th grade math skills, Barclay worked hard, graduated from the Job Corps with trade skills in Culinary Arts and Business/Clerical. He enrolled in college, completed college algebra, and eventually returned to the Job Corps as an instructor. Barclay now has 22 years as a Job Corps instructor under his belt and currently teaches Information Technology at the Pine Knot Center.
“I’ll lose everything I’ve worked for if go in the private sector,” Barclay, who moved here in 2001, remarked. “That includes retirement, benefits, everything. The choice is either to uproot my family or go private. It’s tough, and there are approximately 1,200 federal employees nation-wide in this situation. It’s even worse that we are not getting any information. We are in limbo as to what the plans are for us.”
In addition to personal ramifications, Barclay noted the closure will impact the local economy due to the loss of taxes paid to the local government and school system. Barclay also identified the pending economic blow to local businesses occurring as a result of the disappearance of dollars spent locally for Center operation costs and by Job Corps students and employees.
“This closure will not only affect my family,” Barclay commented. “It will affect the families of grocery and hardware store cashiers, waitresses, gas station attendants, and small business owners. It will affect everyone in the community. It is also going to have a big impact on national forest. The extra hands during forest fires are going to be missed.”
Additionally, the Job Corps Center students provide thousands of hours of community service to McCreary County including providing assistance with county and nonprofit construction projects, construction projects at the county park, trail maintenance, DJ and catering services for nonprofit and charitable events, and forestry projects.
Barclay’s coworker, Sharon Powell, reiterated his comments about the impact the closure will have on employees and the local community.
“At fifty-nine years old, I’m to the point in life where I don’t want to start my life all over again,” Powell shared. “It’s almost like the same scenario has happened to my family twice. My Grandfather was a coal miner when Mine 18 shut down. A lot of families, including mine, went to Cincinnati where I was born to find work. I came back here years ago with my mom, and now I’ve spent over half my life here. It seems like it’s all happening again-just like when the mines shut down. At my age, there is no way I want to move away because my entire family is here.”
Powell has personal experience with Job Corps assistance during forest fires.
“More than once, my home and neighborhood were in danger during forest fires,” Powell stated. “Job Corps students who are trained to fight wildfires are always there to support the firefighting crews.”
Both Barclay and Powell love the local community and feel like the community is supportive of the Job Corps Center.
“We’d like to see everyone in the community call the Congressman every single day,” Barclay said. “Members of the community also need to comment on the Federal Register site by going to: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/05/ 30/2019-11262/job-corps-center-proposal-for-deactivation-comments-requested.
With morale at a low point, Powell said some employees at the Pine Knot Center are already looking for work elsewhere.
“We’ve got some employees who have just arrived,” Powell said. “They’ve just arrived, and now they don’t know if they will have a job.”
With recent public outcry against closure of the Civilian Conservation Center Job Corps and an increasing number of Congressman expressing displeasure over the proposed closures, Barclay is hopeful the Centers can be saved. However, if the Centers are saved, Barclay would like to see some changes in the future.
“If the CCC Centers are saved, going forward, I’d like to see them pulled out of the Department of Labor and fully funded through the Forest Service,” Barclay noted. “Once there, the CCC Centers could function as wildfire training and disaster recovery centers. CCC could target their outreach and admissions primarily for employment and veterans coming out of the military service who are ages 18 and older.”
Barclay’s vision includes the teaching of trade skills currently taught at Job Corps but with a new focus.
“Carpentry and urban forestry classes would integrate instruction on green building, solar panel design, and hazardous materials clean up,” Barclay explained. “Culinary arts could emphasize training in setting up full kitchens during disasters. Our classes in technology, welding, and auto maintenance are natural fits for a program focusing on wildfire training and disaster recovery. By establishing CCC Centers in this way, the U.S. would have twenty-four centers set up across the nation to handle disasters and emergencies. This would meet everyone’s checklist in that it addresses all the big ticket items such as FEMA and disaster recovery, conservation, the green movement, and veteran outreach and employment.”
Despite his vision for the future, Barclay must, for now, stay focused on simply saving the Civilian Conservation Corps Job Corps Centers currently slated for closure. Barclay, Powell, and other coworkers know the next few weeks are crucial.
“We are not going down without a fight,” Barclay declared.