DEVENS -- "We call this place 'the golden opportunity that is kept secret,' " said Tamer Koheil, director of the Shriver Job Corps Center. "It's a great opportunity, and far too many people don't know about it."
The Shriver Job Corps Center has been helping young adults, ages 16-24, receive academic completion and job training since it opened in 1998.
Last January, the center temporarily stopped accepting applications due to a reduction in federal funding, but it recently re-opened admissions. The center has 203 students and a capacity for 235. Koheil said the staff is working to fill the spots.
With optional housing accommodations, unlimited meals plus GED, diploma and driver-education training, the Job Corps teaches students what it is like to work in the real world while giving them a pedestal on which to learn how to do so.
The center offers academics for those who need it based on a placement test given upon entry in the program. There are advanced courses once a student completes the basic level. A recent graduate of the advanced computer class is currently working at a job paying more than $21 an hour.
Classroom sizes average about seven, but are equipped to hold up to 18 students per instructor.
Training in several vocational-technical trades is available.
"We encourage our students to get into nontraditional trades, so you will see many young women in carpentry, for example," Programs Director Jennifer O'Neal said.
"The staff, as well as members of the community, are able to get their cars fixed by the automotive students without having to pay for labor," Koheil said.
Last year, the automotive students saved the staff and members of the community $170,000 in labor costs, she said.
Aside from career training, the center hosts endless recreational opportunities including a fitness center, intramural sports, talent shows, pingpong, a pool and yoga classes.
"I came here with my diploma and my driver's license after spending a year in college at the age of 23," said Christine Tea, 25, who is working to become certified in transportation communications. "I just wanted to get my career started."
Tea drives her car every day to the Devens campus from Lowell, but used to take the Job Corps bus when she first arrived.
"About 50 percent of our students come from the Lowell/Lawrence area," Koheil said.
The center also allows students the opportunity to live on campus in dormitories.
With a strict uniform policy, the center expects students to dress as if they were going to work. The center possesses a closet full of suits donated by various department and retail stores that are available to students as needed.
"We want to provide them with anything they may need in order to succeed," Koheil said.
"You have the option of dressing up above the uniform requirements, but it gives a good foundation for students to get used to dressing properly for a job," Tea said.
In her off-hours from the job center, Tea works as a warehouse clerk at Tighe Logistics, a shipping-and-receiving company.
Through her transportation-communications training at the Job Corps and her work-based learning at Tighe Logistics, Tea has accepted an internship from Amtrak in Boston starting in July. It will substitute her school hours at the center.
"When I tell people about Job Corps, they look at me like, 'What is that?' " Tea said. "And I just think, 'What other program helps you out this much to succeed?' It's an awesome program."