By Kris Kitto and Katy Hopkins - 09/22/09 10:39 PM EDT
“I think it’ll go by pretty fast, and I don’t want it to,” he said. “I want it to be a good learning experience.”
Gamble and more than 100 other Job Corps students have descended upon Capitol Hill for the 45th anniversary celebration of the program.
In the spirit of the program, its students will run the Capitol Hill tribute: preparing food for a reception, putting on a first-ever oratory competition, giving Job Corps IQ tests to congressional staff and members of Congress and offering unofficial advice to lawmakers as their interns.
The residency program teaches marketable skills to students like Gamble who have dropped out of school. Gamble and two other Job Corps students in town for the congressional festivities shared their stories with The Hill.
Gamble said Job Corps staff specially selected him to be Hoyer’s intern for the day.
“I’m actually, like, very proud of myself,” the 20-year-old Baltimore native said. “I feel real, real appreciated.”
And though he doesn’t want to be a politician — Gamble is studying carpentry — he recognized that it could pay off in the future to know people in high places.
Before Job Corps, Gamble found he lacked the skills to get a job or start his own carpentry business, he said. He is scheduled to finish his time in the program in early 2010 and said he is looking forward to being “more marketable.”
Aspiring chef Amanda Shelton is coming to town to skewer more than 300 fruit kebabs and sculpt two watermelon roses for the Job Corps reception, but she will take time to smell the roses, too, during her first trip to the city.
“Normally I wouldn’t do anything with Washington, D.C., or politicians, but [Job Corps] has given me the opportunity to experience something I wouldn’t have,” the 20-year-old Morgansville, Ky., resident said. “It’s a nice opportunity to get our names out there and find out what different parts of society are like.”
During her five days in D.C., Shelton is hoping for some run-ins with politicians — “anybody I meet will probably be really exciting,” she said.
Back in Morgansville, Job Corps has opened a few others doors since Shelton joined a year ago — a decision she made “to get out of a rut.”
“I was going nowhere in my life, so I thought, ‘Hey, why not?’ ” she said. “I took a chance on something that I didn’t really know about, and it changed me.”
Through the program, Shelton, who dropped out of high school her senior year, earned her diploma, whipped her body into shape through Job Corps’ pre-military training and cultivated her skills as a pastry chef.
Experimenting with ingredients had long been a fascination of hers, Shelton said, and it evolved into a career path with the help of her Job Corps program.
By next fall, she plans to move to Maryland to open a whimsically named bakery — Manda Panda’s Bake and Cake.
“It sounds really childish, but I think it’s important to have a fun name for a bakery,” the 20-year-old entrepreneur said. “It’s my passion, really. To see the look on somebody’s face whenever they have what you made for them is really worth making it.”
Speaking from the heart
The last time Katelyn Tinney delivered the speech she will give Wednesday, she wept through the “extraordinarily nerve-racking” experience.
In her five-minute oratory, Tinney, a 22-year-old from Rochester, N.Y., recounts her pre-Job Corps bouts with depression and drug use. She is one of four finalists scheduled to speak in front of lawmakers, staff and administration officials in the first-ever student oratorical competition.
“I was going through a really rough time,” she said. “I was really distraught and I didn’t know what I was doing with myself.”
Before enrolling in the program, Tinney explored a few career paths, bouncing between studies in music recording technology and cosmetology, and falling back on waitressing when neither appealed to her.
But now Tinney has found her niche — studying nursing in pursuit of an LPN certification at her Job Corps center. Eventually, she hopes to earn a master’s degree in psychiatric nursing.
Her time in Washington won’t be all business. She plans to sightsee with her parents and might frequent Foggy Bottom in hopes of running into the secretary of State.
“It would be cool if I was sitting in a coffee shop or something and I spotted Hilary Clinton,” Tinney said with a laugh. “I think she’s pretty inspirational.”