The Little City Upon a Hill

Angell graduate working on a car

The movie “Cars” hooked Sophia Martin of Portland on engines, so she came to Angell for its automotive program. She’s tough and determined: “I hate it that some jobs are seen as ‘men’s,’ she says. “Don’t tell me I can’t do something!” Sophia dropped out of high school, and couch-surfed after frequent arguments with her mom. Determined to succeed on her own, Sophia passed 30 tests in her automotive coursework at Angell, and has been approved for an 18-month advanced automotive program in Utah she hopes will certify her to work on big diesel engines. She leaves for Utah this month: “I’m 100% committed to the program,” she grins. “I was crying at graduation, I was so proud!”

Just north of Yachats, 162 people live in a community that uses lots of electricity: It has a post office, library, school, store, health clinic, restaurant (ok; dining hall), fitness center, sewage treatment plant, and dorms. There’s no city hall, but otherwise, Angell Job Corps is a self-contained town with a mission: Take kids who are adrift, teach them life skills, help them finish high school (if they haven’t), and learn career skills that will help them earn a living wage.

Nearly 20% of American teenagers drop out of high school.  It’s a serious problem–dropouts earn an average of $19,000 a year, while high school graduates average $28,000. Over a lifetime, the difference between the two is an estimated $405,000. And most of Angell’s graduates do much better: working with trade unions, this Job Corps facility specializes in career training in carpentry, brick masonry, painting, plumbing, urban forestry, and automotive repair.

Center Director John Booker, a 26-year Jobs Corps veteran, leads the tiny ‘city’ of Angell, and is understandably proud his team takes 16-24 year olds who may have been homeless, or never have opened a bank account, or never held a regular job, and helps them become confident, respectful young adults. “They come to us broken, and we do what we can to fix them,” he says.  “We help them go out into the world and flourish.” Some Angell students are the first in their families to earn a high school diploma. They come from all over the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, Hawaii, and several Pacific Islands.

Many Angell residents work off-campus, earning money working weekends for neighbors, or fighting fires during summers. “Mr. Booker” as the kids call him, teaches self-discipline by requiring most of those earnings go straight into the student’s savings account and stay there. “Once they graduate from here, they will need money to live on while earning that first paycheck, to put a deposit on and pay rent for a place to live, to pay for transportation to their first new job,” he says firmly. “They will thank me then.”

Most Angell students are here on the Central Coast for a year and a half to two years. They study, and learn life skills like how to act and dress professionally, how to handle conflict in the workplace. And leadership. Some proudly work toward achieving positions of leadership, such as dorm captain and wing leader.

It’s an intense, emotional time, and for 97% it ends with triumphant graduation ceremonies. Angell’s staff members put their hearts into helping their kids, and it’s tough to see them go. “The hardest part of the job is you get attached to them,” says Residential Living Manager Brady Endicott a bit sadly. “But they have great new lives when they leave here, and they don’t look back. They look to the future.”

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