DEVENS -- Shriver Job Corps celebrated 50 years of workforce training on Wednesday, when state officials piled into a packed auditorium at the Devens site to congratulate the center.
The site is one of 125 federally funded Job Corps centers nationwide that offers vocational training to youth in a variety of programs. The program was founded in 1964 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's war on poverty.
The Devens site is named after Sargent Shriver, who led the Office of Economic Opportunity that created the program, and has been running since 1996.
The students, many of whom live on the Devens campus, can earn certificates in programs such as office administration, carpentry, or other hands-on classes. Those who did not graduate high school can even complete their General Educational Development requirements.
In the world of Job Corps programs, the Devens operation stands out -- Shriver Director Tamer Koheil said that last year, Shriver ranked 10th nationwide out of all 125 sites.
Shriver is kicking off the start of the 2014 program year with a ranking of third best in the country, he said.
State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, said the communities he represents are the direct beneficiaries of the center's work.
"In many of the communities I represent, especially in communities like Shirley, Ayer, Littleton and Harvard, projects that you have done often serving the less fortunate in the district that I represent really makes a tremendous difference for so many people," he said.
Eldridge said it's important to note that at a time when there is so much conversation on inequality in America, often the greatest way to reduce it is through this program.
"When I think about the legacy of the war on poverty, I really think that the Shriver Job Corps program is a key example of the legacy -- that action, commitment and its success."
State Rep. Stephen DiNatale, D-Fitchburg, said one of the most significant challenges for the region, state and country is finding a well-trained workforce. He said Shriver provides just that.
"We should all take the lead at the state level and federal level. What you're doing and what Shriver does works," he said. "We need to duplicate that and maintain it."
Jane Adams from Tsongas' office said Tsongas could not be at the anniversary because of a family commitment, but presented some of her remarks.
Tsongas, who joined the Friends of Job Corps Congressional Caucus in 2007, has given speeches and dined at the Devens site, Adams said.
"Every time she has come, she has expressed how impressed she's been with the earnestness of the students and inspired by each and every student she meets," Adams said.
Job Corps' 50th anniversary comes just after Shriver announced its ability to take in 58 more students, bumping enrollment back up to the 300 spots previously available before budget cuts.
Students also packed the bleachers of the auditorium and enjoyed a break from classes to celebrate.
For Chene Marrow, 23, Shriver is her second Job Corps site. She's been at Devens for five months learning math skills, business communication and interviewing skills.
Marrow is studying in the Transportation Communications Union program and wants to eventually work for the freight company CSX. She said she liked being at Shriver Job Corps.
"We'll get hired faster because we're more hands-on," she said. "And jobs like that."