DEVENS -- Christina Dodge of Townsend never thought she would get her high school diploma.

High school just wasn't her thing, she said, and by her second time as a junior at North Middlesex Regional High School, she was checked out.

"I was like, I'm done, I don't want to be here anymore," she said.

Now, the 20-year-old not only has her diploma, but also a certificate in office administration. She is even looking into community college to eventually become a deaf interpreter.

Dodge is one of about 235 students at Shriver Job Corps in Devens, where young adults who might not have made it through high school or college can take a second shot at a career.

Dodge said it was crazy how quickly she finished her diploma after arriving at Shriver, and how helpful the staff was.

"To actually get it was just the biggest accomplishment, and I can't thank them enough for it," she said.

The Job Corps site, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, is one of three in Massachusetts and 125 nationwide.

Job Corps offers training and education to 16- to 24-year-olds who meet low-income requirements, whether they need to wrap up their GED (General Educational Development) or want to pursue a vocational career.

"The whole program is to prepare the students and get them ready to be employable," said Robert Campbell, business community liaison director at Shriver.


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The campus is similar to a college, offering residential dormitories, a wellness center and a cafeteria. The majority of students at Shriver are on-campus residents, with about 40 commuter students.

For those who come without their GED, getting it is the first task. But meanwhile, they can take classes in carpentry, cement masonry, culinary arts and more, receiving vocational certificates that could line them up for a job offering more than minimum wage.

"Sometimes we get students that are graduated and decided to maybe go to college, tried a semester, didn't like it and came back," Campbell said.

From the time they arrive, students are guided through a set course, visiting career preparation instructors to help them figure out their career path or finishing up their GED online.

On any given day, students in carpentry class might be constructing a drywall while those in culinary arts are making tres leche cake.

As a former teacher at Lowell High School, Campbell said he has seen the benefits of Job Corps first-hand.

He recalled one student at the high school who did not have enough English requirements to graduate. When he came to Shriver, he finished all of his English requirements and ended up taking carpentry.

"This kid would have been a potential dropout," he said. "He got a Lowell High School diploma out of it, a certificate in house carpentry and a job to boot."

Students also receive weekly stipends, but those who finish their high school diploma and vocational certification are rewarded with a $1,000 check.

"This is a great alternative to dropping out," Campbell said of the program.

Three admission counselors recruit students in Ayer, Shirley, North Middlesex, Lowell, Lawrence and more.

Admission Counselor Melanie Mericle said one of the biggest challenges for the students she recruits is not having the resources or structure at home.

"Essentially Job Corps gets those students that would never have this opportunity, and then gives them one, and it's free," she said. "They don't have to pay for anything."

At the end of their education, students sit through a Career Transition Readiness class where they finalize their resume, learn interview skills and prepare for their job.

CTR Instructor Marianne Breault said she's seen quite a difference between the students who come in and those who go out.

"I meet them when they go in at the beginning at CPP (Career Preparation Period), and then when they get to my classroom They're very different people," she said. "Very different. Employable."

Before 20-year-old Steven Lahlou came to Job Corps, he said all he was doing was working and not furthering his education. He found out about the program at a job fair, and has been in Job Corps for about 10 months.

He said the experience is what you put into it.

"It's a self-based program," he said. "If you have the desire to achieve your goals and do what you want to do, then this program will give you everything that you need to do that."

He wrapped up his high school diploma at Shriver and went straight to full-time training in two trades, earning certificates in computer technology and office administration.

Lahlou's ideal job is to be a police officer. He plans to use the skills from office administration in college, where he wants to pursue a criminal justice degree.

If students really need a push to get them on track, Lahlou encouraged them to join Job Corps.

"If you're somebody who's not too good with following rules or you like to sneak around, still join Job Corps because this is a place where they will straighten you up," he said.

Lahlou will be starting at Quinsigamond Community College in the fall. He said Shriver really is a good place.

"As long as you do what you need to do, then they'll give it right back to you," he said. "All the help they can possibly give."