Last updated: May 15, 2017
Job Corps: "The View from Catoctin"
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TranscriptThis is Maryland Route 77 winding up into the Catoctin Mountains to this country's first Job Corps camp where the first 100 of the million American youngsters who don't go to school and can't find work are trying to break out of a life, not just of poverty, but of despair. These are some of the first Job Corps volunteers, boys from the hollows of Kentucky and the slums of Baltimore and New Haven. Survivors of that other America in which 35 million people live with an average family income of less than thirty-five dollars a week. That's one family in five. Before they came here, most of these boys had never been more than 30 miles from home, never seen a doctor or dentist, never had a chance even to be fired from a job, never been able to qualify for the Army. One couldn't even tell time, but now they have joined the federal government's war on poverty and each one of them already has won two battles. He decided to come here and he decided to stay. My name is Robert Abernathy. This is Camp Catoctin. Back in the thirties, this used to be part of the old Civilian Conservation Corps. Now, it's part of the Job Corps. The idea of the CCC was to keep young men busy and healthy until the economy improved and they could go home to work. Well, now the economy is booming, but it has no place anymore for the unskilled, so now it is these boys whose abilities need to be improved and they know it. One young fellow from New Haven said, I need a little bit of schooling. I need a little bit of everything. And, another fellow here from Kentucky was told by his mother when he left home, Don't come back son, there's nothing for you here. Whether there will be something someplace else, depends on what happened at Camp Catoctin. Just getting the day started here is a problem. Back home not everyone followed Ben Franklin's advice about how to become healthy, wealthy and wise. The Job Corps is open to anyone over 16 and under 22 who is not emotionally sick, a dope addict or a criminal. The idea is to get a volunteer away from home teach him to read and to do arithmetic and to give him the beginnings of a skill. The corps men get thirty dollars a month and a credit of fifty dollars a month to be cashed in when they leave. They also get seventy-five dollars for clothes after they've been here a month. That's kind of a reward for staying. The Job Corps is by no means as disciplined as might be suggested by its crisp slogan: Work, learn, earn. The only punishment is the maximum one, to send a boy home and when that happens it means everyone has failed again. The man who volunteered to try to see that this does not happen, the Director of Camp Catoctin is Al Maxi, 39 years old, until this year a Forest Ranger at Yellowstone Park. He and his wife and five children put their furniture in storage to come back east and live in a trailer, because as Maxi puts it, This looked like an opportunity to help people who'd been left out. One of Maxi's first calls each day is at Camp Catoctin's schoolroom where he talked recently with NBC's John Davenport. Mr. Maxi We know about the overall goal of the war on poverty, but let's talk a little bit about Catoctin out here. What is your specific goal here? Well, our goal here is to take a disadvantaged youth and lead them to a better life. We have boys here who have a high school diploma, but can only read at sixth grade level. They simply sat in the back of a classroom for years and waited until they could legally drop out. We bring the boy in from his home environment to a changed situation in a camp. We test him. We determine where he left off in school and try to plug him back in at the level that he quit. Hi there David. David, I'm going to give you this placement examination. RH26. This is what I'd like for you to do. Here's a picture. Take a pencil. Can read the particular sentence beside the picture? Am a, ah, a, am What? Ant. Ant. Yes, or no? Yes. Put a circle around this. Most places require a high school diploma in order to start work with a company. They want people who will develop into managers and will developed further in their company. And, these people who that have less than a high school diploma have a very difficult time in seeking employment. Thirty years ago, I can remember many men lined up digging ditches, gainfully employed and raising families on this type of employment, but today you see very little manual labor involved in ditch digging. It's all done by machinery. And, when machinery does a better job faster and more economically, then our economy pushes us toward the machine and this is a technological change that has come about in the last 30 years and has become more acute in the last 15. Well, these fellows are working away here at math today. We teach remedial reading and remedial math. They're working all at different levels. They are working individually on their own because they wish to gain this particular skill, that they now realize they need. We try to introduce all of our boys to the world of work and this is one of our small shops that we do this particular project in. A few boys will learn a fairly skilled trade here. Most of the boys are merely in here working toward their project completing these tables, in which they will have learned introductory carpentry. They will go on from this shop into other shops and try their skill there. Then, if they show an interest in a particular traded, they can spend additional time in one particular shop. We have just completed the overhaul of one of our vehicles. The boys are very proud of this particular job and are very pleased to have people notice how quietly it runs and how little oil it now uses. We orient all of our work projects having in mind that most these boys will need reading and math skills. And, by working in these shops, it becomes more clear to them this very basic need that they will have and some of the boys then try to return to the classroom because they have found an interest and they have found the need for this particular skill. Coming into a camp like this is completely new. Staying on a job eight hours is a new experience. Even staying on some of these projects for four hours is a new experience for them. When a boy comes into a camp we try to be considerate according to the background that he has come from and give him some time to adjust to this new environment. Well, this is difficult for them because they have been used to sleeping perhaps most of the day getting up at three or four o'clock in the afternoon and then staying up all night. And, when they come out here and we want them to get up at six o'clock in the morning and turnout for calisthenics this is a shock to them and it takes them a little while for them to adjust to this change. In the first three weeks that a boy is here, we'll find them going to sleep actually. It's not that they really are intending to do something wrong, it's just that their sleep hasn't caught up with the activity that we have them involved in. It's a change for all of them. The city boy is awed somewhat by the trees and being out here in a completely different setting. The rural boy is awed by all of the city boys being around him and so many concentrated in camp. Well, I think it's an enlarging experience for both of them and this is in some ways a part of our goal to bring them into a situation where they do enlarge their horizons. Waistlines get enlarged, too. The phenomenon of three meals a day prepared by a retired Army Mess Sergeant requires some of these boys to get a complete change of clothes after they've been here a few weeks. The whole idea of the Job Corps is close to the heart of the President of the United States. He was once a dropout who thought he didn't need to go to college until a few years of work changed his mind. During the thirties, he was the head man in Texas for the National Youth Administration, which put thirty thousand unemployed youngsters to work on projects much like those these boys do. As Al Maxi explains, the President has kept his eye on Camp Catoctin. Well, I think this is a part of our story that people really do care, even the President And, he was willing to take any his very valuable schedule and come to this Job Corps camp to see the boys and see what they were doing and I think this was very uplifting for them. Many of the boys were able to speak with him. He shook hands with about half of the boys in the camp. They took a great many pictures. Many of these pictures were sent home showing President Johnson speaking with a particular boy. It was a great thrill for all of them. When Camp Catoctin first opened last January, one young fellow from Baltimore arrived and then quit and went home almost immediately, but then he came back. He said, I hate this lousy place, but it's better than the lousy place I came from. Since Camp Catoctin opened, 35 of 135 boys have quit. This is Michael Dunn, 18 years old of New Haven, Connecticut. A dropout from high school who couldn't get a job and couldn't get along with his mother and sister, but still feels the tug of home. I was at home just about a week ago, but only because I was homesick. I mean, I think that's why, why a lot of guys have quit now because they're homesick and I think that most of the guys that have quit now are from the city and they feel, I feel myself, too, that this place is for too far out in the woods. I would much rather be in an urban center because, uh, I mean I don't like a place that's far out in the woods. Well, other than being that this place is good, they feed you good, and, uh, they're really trying to help you. I mean, I just hope that they can train me and--- that I can get a job when I go out. James Blackman, 19, also from New Haven, has a pearl in his ear lobe, the badge of his gang back home. But, to hear him talk, he doesn't miss the streets at all. I expected that when I got here that I would have a lot of trouble, the same way I did before I left New Haven, but after I got here all the fellows was nice. We never had no arguments, no fights, you know. Everybody gets along alright. We asked Blackman whether he had trouble at home. Well, when I was home, back in New Haven, I had quite a bit of trouble because I didn't work and I hung around in the streets all the time. And, that's ---- of trouble, right there, because during a lot of --- we'd get in trouble. Troy Weaver of Hyattsville is Guidance Counselor at Catoctin. We asked him if homesickness is a problem. I would say more or less, they is a, this is a rural center. We are pretty far back up in the mountains, trees and this is a different kind of environment from most of these kids are used to. And, although the home maybe did not provide the correct amount of, an amount of decent food, rooms with beds, and clean linens, and this kind of thing, television, recreation, wholesome recreation, these fellows still are quite homesick because I guess they have some identification with whatever was called home. And, at this point, the only way that we've acutally handled them is, we have no way of keeping them. This is strictly, they can ask to go home and they are supposed to be able to go home. However, we do put it off, try to keep putting if off, and sometimes within a week's time it'll adjust itself. However, if, we've had cases where boys just into tears, crying, you know, and just could not take. And, in the end we found it we had to let 'em go. I would like to add this point, I think in the screening processes that some work should be done with the parents and my reasons for saying this is a boy can find all kinds of excuses to get home if he's homesick and he'll write things home, like Dear Mom, I'm not getting enough food and the problem was not getting enough at home and this place was just really a lousy place. And, of course, this is something that would make a mother become upset and right away she'll send a telegram, Send my boy home. But I feel if there's some, there is some screening, some work done with the parents, uh this will certainly help that problem. I mean, the mother will be aware that she's going to get these telephone calls and, uh, she's going to get these kinds of letters, but I know that this is the best place for my boy, at this time. The law setting up the Job Corps last year also set up a kind of Peace Corps here at home call Volunteers in Service to America. The pay is no better, but the satisfaction may be as great. There are three Vista volunteers at Catoctin. One of them, William Arnold, an ordained minister from Texas, who talked with us not about what he was doing for the boys, but about what they were doing for him. I have been, and I am a Southern Baptist preacher and when I came into the Job Corps here at Catoctin, I decided that I wouldn't go around broadcasting the fact that I am a preacher, that I'm a Holy Joe, so to speak, but I decided I'd just be one of the guys here, not necessarily participate in some of the things some of the others did, especially the use of the foul language that I listened to. But, I just live with the corpmen here in the dormitory, ate with them, laughed with them, cried with them on a few occasions, played ball with them. And, after a few days had passed, one of the corpmen came and asked me why I didn't use some of this foul language and I told him the reason why was fact that I was a Southern Baptist preacher and I thought there was a much better type of language to use. That's been a most valuable experience. I think it will make of me a much better preacher, a much better man and I'll be able to be a better pastor out yonder in the future. Just down the mountain from Catoctin is Thurmont, Maryland, which has prospered because of all the money put into the Job Corps camp, but which still has many resentful residents. There's been some competition for local girls and whispered fears of imagined trouble that might be brought in by tough kids from the city, especially negroes. Mayor Roy Lookingville, a barber, was very cautious on this as he cut a Thurmont boy's hai Well, my attitude toward 'em is alright. I, I certainly think it's a good thing, and the motive and the intent is good a these boys can surely accomplish something if they want to. I trust that they will. For the attitude of the people, I, I would hate to give a report of their attitude because I hardly know, they're, they're real attitude. Most people I'm sure is not too, has no bitterness or animosity towards 'em, the people up there, regardless of their color. Camp Catoctin may be successfully integrated, but Thurmont remains a southern town. One man in the neighborhood who is impressed by Camp Catoctin, used to work there when it was a CCC camp. George Wolf still can't quite believe all the changes that have come. Well, I came in 1939, April 26th, and it was raining and, uh, the boys live in tents and all the equipment had was, in, uh, boxes. Had to sort them out before we could get a place to put 'em and bad equipment. And, I worked for a long time. Finally, I got rid of the equipment and got new equipment. Then, we had it made and, uh, now as of now, everything's all up to date. We didn't have, all we had was old stoves, and with a fan back of 'em to fan the heat out, and not much water. One of my city boys you had to kick a frog out of his hole and jump in before he could get a bath. And, uh, it was so much different between then and now, I can't compare. I mean that was just, this is just out of this world. To men such as Al Maxi and his boss, Doctor Otis Singleterry, the Job Corps is very much of this world. Doctor Singleterry is the former Chancellor of the University of North Carolina. By June thirtieth of this year, it was his goal to have in operation 139 Job Corps camps, rural and urban in which 10,000 boys and girls would be enrolled. But, as he explained to us, this is just a first step. We have hoped from the beginning that we can work ourselves out of a job. Uh, we would look to the day when, uh, such program would not be necessary. However, uh, I have been told that there something like a million youngsters in the United States today in this age group who are out of school and out of work. And, I think our work is cut out for us, for, for the immediate future, certainly. Finally, we talked about the past and future of the Job Corps with Sargent Shriver, the Director of the whole Economic Opportunity Program. Mr. Shriver, what were the origins of the Job Corps idea? Well, I'm sure that there are many different origins for it. One of the most obvious ones is the fact that in the Congress, pending in the Congress for a number of years, had been a Youth Conservation bill sponsored by a number of progressive Congressmen and Senators. And, the purpose of this was to, uh, of this bill was to open up an opportunity for young men to go to conservation work in camps, very much like the old Civilian Conservation Corps. When and how do you think you'll be able to tell whether the Job Corps is working? Well, first of all, I don't think we'll be able to tell tomorrow afternoon whether it's working or not. It will take time in order to prove how successful it is. Second, I think that there'll be many different ways of evaluating the success of the Job Corps. For example, the first, most obvious way I guess, is whether a graduate of the Job Corps gets a job. Isn't taking someone of 16 or 17 or 18 really too late, wouldn't it be better to get them as infants, or at least before primary school? Well, I think it's true that the sooner that you get an individual, the better off you are. In fact, I'd go back and say that one of the most constructive things you can do is to strengthen the American family, so that the family creates an atmosphere in the home which is conducive to the proper social intellectual development of the child. There' no question about. I won't say, however, that it's too late when the boy or girl is 16. It's never too late. It's how effective are you at the time you, you reach the child. What's your estimate of the cost of the Job Corps per boy compared to what the cost would be per boy without the Job Corps? We've estimated variously although these are just round box car figures, as they call them, that anyone of these fellows, if he were not in the Job Corps, would probably cost the tax payer a hundred thousand dollars over, over his lifetime. I would say that the $5,000, or even $10,000, we might invest in these youngsters over a two year period now is a small investment to avoid having to pay a hundred thousand dollars in relief. Mr. Shriver, have you had enough experience yet with the Job Corps to be able to sit back and say this, or this, or this, or something else has been the greatest achievement? Well, yes, I'll say that there is. I'll say, first of all, the response to the Job Corps is the single greatest achievement, up til now. When we stared the Job Corps, lots of experts told us that nobody would volunteer to join it. They told us that we were trying to appeal to an age group, and, uh, also to a segment of the population that was not interested in working, was not interested in education, wanted to stay right where they were and steal automobiles and operate their switch blades and have fights and muggings, that was the population out of school and out of work. And, they told us they never would volunteer. Well, those experts have been proved to be a hundred percent wrong. We've got over 250,000 applicants. Which to me means that among these children, 16 to 22, there's a large, large number of them who want to work, who want to learn, who want to get ahead in a profitable way with their lives. That is a terrific discovery. There is much about the Job Corps as Sargent Shriver suggests that is encouraging already. But, as he also suggests, it's too early to pass judgment. If 250,000 youngsters have applied of the one million who might have, that means 750,000 have not applied. The volunteers have yet to try their luck in employment offices and even if they find work no one knows how long it will be before automation makes them obsolete again. But, we know this, there is an unquestionable need for some kind of help for those crippled by poverty and irresponsibility and will afflict their children the same way, unless the cycle is broken. The Job Corps is one effort to meet that need. If it succeeds, if it really can create hope and ability, it will do a great deal more than just save welfare expenses. It will save and make lives, too. In the process, it will show all of us that America still exists for people, not for machines, and not for systems, and that even in the relentless affluent computer age, there are men such as Al Maxi, who are not only willing, but glad, to leave home for a trailer at Camp Catoctin. Each one of us, uh, must have some justification for what we are doing and sooner or later we must make a choice of what job we're going to choose. And, I have been motivated here, I think, because we are helping boys. I once was fishing with an old man who, as we walked along, I kicked a stone or two out of his way as we were travelling down this path. He said, You know if you pattern your life so that you will continue to kick the stones out on the paths of those who follow along behind you, you can't have gone too far wrong. Music. Produced by John Davenport. Directed by Richard Quinnette. Photographed by Bill Richards. Film edited by Constantine Gochis. Sound by John Levy. A Presentation of WRC-TV and NBC News. I'm Robert Abernathy, this is Camp Catoctin, Maryland. Here is being fought one of the major battles in the war on poverty, a special report on Channel 4.
Job Corps: "The View from Catoctin"