Chemeketa Community College (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Katherine Moore didn’t want to spend her career working at Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Moore, 20, knew a college education would prepare her for a higher-paying career. In the fall of 2019, she applied for a pharmacy technician program at Chemeketa Community College.

But after registering for classes, she realized she’d have to put her college dreams on hold.

“When I was supposed to start buying my textbooks, that’s when I found out how much money it really is to have college,” she said. Even with financial aid, “that would already put me a thousand plus dollars in debt before I even started the first day of school.”

Discouraged, she went back to her job at KFC.

Then, Moore got an email from Chemeketa about a new program called Job Corps Scholars. Low-income students ages 16 to 24 can apply to a career-focused program at Chemeketa designed to be completed in one year or less. Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, there’s no cost for students.

“I looked into it, and they basically pay for everything - tuition, supplies and all of that,” Moore said.

Pharmacy technician was among the programs eligible.

“I was like, ‘Well, this is a sign,’” Moore said. She began taking classes in the spring to prepare for the program and will begin pharmacy tech courses fall quarter.

Chemeketa was one of 26 public colleges around the U.S. selected for a grant for the Department of Labor’s new Job Corps Scholars program. Students like Moore can enroll in more than 40 career-focused Chemeketa programs, including commercial truck driving, accounting, law enforcement and welding technology.

The Department of Labor has operated Job Corps, a residential career training program for young Americans, for more than 50 years. But the new scholar grants provide training at public colleges, rather than federally run career training centers.

That’s intended to reduce federal costs and expand the reach of the training programs, according to the Department of Labor’s funding announcement.

Chemeketa hired Deroll Barrett to run the program, starting in October 2020. Barrett came to the college after spending years working at residential Job Corps training sites, most recently in Mississippi.

At a community college, he said, “there are more systems in place to support employees and students.”

Job Corps students at Chemeketa have weekly meetings with coaches who help them navigate their classes. They can apply for money to help cover basic needs like food or housing while they’re enrolled to ensure they’re successful, Barrett said.

The goal is to “successfully train them and get them into good-paying careers that will lead to their economic mobility and self-sufficiency,” he said.

The college has so far enrolled 10 students in the program, which began in January, and can serve up to 80 over the three year grant period.

Barrett said recruitment has focused on three lower-income ZIP codes in the college’s service area: central Salem (97301), Brooks (97305) and southeast Salem (97317). The college is also seeking students by reaching out to those, like Moore, who enrolled and then dropped out. Many are the first in their families to attend college, Barrett said.

Three students enrolled in the program earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average during their spring term, something Barrett said reflects both their hard work and the intensive support the college is providing.

Among them is Sandra Salinas, 24, a mother of three who lives in Stayton. Salinas enrolled at Chemeketa briefly after finishing high school in 2014, but dropped out after realizing she didn’t want to become a medical assistant.

Since then, she’s always wanted to go back to school, but said life got in the way as she focused on raising her kids. She started working at a daycare and then became a preschool assistant.

When her mother-in-law told her about the Job Corps program, Salinas knew it was her chance to become a preschool teacher, but she still hesitated.

“I was kinda at first doubting myself - am I going to be able to do this, is this too much?” she said. Her husband works from home and has helped take care of their kids while she’s in class.

“My family was there for me, supporting me,” she said.

Salinas was pregnant with her youngest child as she began classes at Chemeketa winter quarter, going into labor during finals week. She said with three kids at home, she’s often running on four or five hours of sleep. But getting straight As in her classes showed her she can succeed.

“It feels really great. I feel really proud of myself,” she said.

More information about the Job Corps Scholars program and application information is available on the Chemeketa website.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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