COEBURN — U.S. Sen. Mark Warner began a day of Southwest Virginia events Thursday with a morning stop by the Flatwoods Job Corps Center.
Warner stated that he was proud to be part of a bipartisan effort to convince the Trump administration to reverse its decision to close Flatwoods and other Job Corps centers around the country.
“It (closing the Job Corps) would have cut back on a lot of volunteer assistance that helps in terms of protecting our forest,” said Warner. “Also it would have really penalized the young people who learn skills here.”
While at the Job Corps center, Warner met with Director David Scholes. Scholes expressed to Warner the importance of funding, stating that he would like the see the welding program come back to the center.
“I tell the students that those are essential jobs,” said Scholes. “On a hot day we want air conditioning, we want plumbing, we want lights indoors. Those aren’t jobs that can go anywhere. You can’t take them overseas.”
Warner listened more than he spoke, asking questions. He inquired about the length of the programs and demographics of the students.
According to Scholes, most of the students are from east of Roanoke, with a few from the local region. Scholes stated that he would like to see more local students at the Flatwoods Job Corps.
“How does that young person that comes from a disadvantaged background find their way here?” asked Warner.
According to Scholes, the Department of Labor has recruiters who go to schools around the country. Scholes and his staff do the same locally.
“We are still kind of a secret, even to people here, and we have been here for 55 years,” said Scholes. “People also have the idea that it’s just ‘bad kids’ here. I think its more 18-year-olds acting like 18-year-olds.”
Warner also met with the students inside the gymnasium, asking them about their programs, a typical day and if they like the food.
“I’m a big believer in what this program does and a big believer in you guys having a fair shot,” Warner said to the students.
Warner was critical of the Trump administration’s decision to close some Job Corps centers and other programs in rural areas. “How do you come to the coalfields and say ‘I’m going to help you get more jobs,’ then eliminate the Appalachian Regional Commission?”
Warner went on to stay that it wasn’t just Democrats fighting against the Trump Administration on the issue of Job Corps and the commission, but it was a bipartisan effort. “It wasn’t just my efforts, it was the combined efforts of people from around the country.” He continued, “I think the administration finally realized that they made a wrong decision and I give them credit for reversing it.
“I think this is an underutilized asset,” said Warner of the Job Corps. “You can give somebody a skill set here and they can go out and make a living as opposed to being on public assistance or worse, in the criminal justice system. This is a win-win.”