132 graduate from Iroquois Job Corps and many already have jobs
‘The main thing I learned was to never give up on myself.’
– Graduate Rolando Ramos
By Sue Cook, staff reporter
MEDINA – Friday was a day of celebration at the Iroquois Job Corps in Medina as 132 students graduated from the program.
Job Corps offers training and education with free tuition to students ages 16 to 24. They earn a high school diploma or GED, and learn a trade with the goal of finding and keeping a good job.
Rolando Ramos, the student government president, stood before his classmates at commencement and told his story. He was working two jobs to support his family, but had dropped out of high school and did not have a diploma. He wanted to improve his situation and decided enrolling in Job Corps was the best solution. Ramos is graduating from the Brick Mason program.
“I told myself you need to set an example to your sisters and make your mother proud,” he said as he addressed the crowd in the gymnasium. “I learned a lot in this program. The main thing I learned was to never give up on myself.”
Ramos turned to the underclassmen watching from the bleachers. “If I did it, you all can do it, too.”
Another graduating student from Buffalo, Damone Foster, was also given the opportunity to speak. He offered a message of hope and achievement.
“We did it guys,” he said to the eruption of applause. “I came here and it really changed my life. I achieved a lot and it made me a better man today. I got to know a different Damone. Don’t let anything break you down. Stay positive and stay happy.”
Foster was the first child his mother has been able to see graduate. He and his two sisters dropped out of high school. Damone said the program was important for his future, but he also wanted his mother to be proud and to have the experience of watching one of her children walk the stage. Foster has graduated as a Certified Nurse’s Assistant and already has a job at the Waterfront Nursing Home in Buffalo.
Kylil Young is posed with Rev. William Coplin of Urban Christian Ministries of Buffalo and Louise Ross, the Admissions Counselor of Buffalo. Ross encouraged Young to enter Job Corps and was given the opportunity to see him graduate and congratulate him.
Job Corps Director Melissa Volpe distributed the diplomas to the students as they walked the stage. She instructed the graduates to not be afraid to follow their dreams even if it is a hard road and people tell you to give up.
“Don’t stop digging until you hit a river of blessings,” Volpe said. “Nothing worth having comes easy. You have to push through.”
The technical training Iroquois Job Corps offers falls into the categories of construction or medical careers. Brick masonry, carpentry and painting are the construction options. The medical options include Clinical Medical Assistant (CMA), Certified Nurse’s Assistant (CNA) and Medical Administrative Assistant (MAA). Students can also earn their driver’s license through the program.
Center Director Melissa Volpe shakes hands with Keonna Pearson. Pearson is graduating from the Certified Nurse’s Assistant Program. To the right of the stage are Nursing Instructors Audrey Evans and Jimmy Ponder.
Many people often associate troubled inner-city kids with Job Corps. Not all those who attend are from Buffalo or Rochester. Students from the local area are also able to attend. Some students come from as far as Syracuse and even New Jersey.
Sometimes students enter the program for reasons such as dropping out of high school to being the caregiver of an ill family member.
The Iroquois Job Corps campus is located inside the scenic wildlife refuge. It gives students an opportunity to attend school in an environment as free from outside distractions as possible.
Once the graduation was complete and the students threw their caps into the air, they were able to celebrate with their families. The graduates all expressed endless gratitude to their teachers and their families. Tears were shed as people around the gym bear-hugged each other.