After meeting with students and staff at Trapper Creek Job Corps on Friday, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines said that what he heard could be summed up in two words.
Hope and opportunity.
“These are students who are on a path now of becoming productive citizens and prepared for the 21st century workforce,” Daines said. “Some had literally spent time in prison and jail and are now getting a new lease on life. That is really a tremendous return on investment.”
Daines was on the Darby-area campus to celebrate this week’s announcement that the Trump Administration would reverse course and neither close nor privatize any of the Job Corps Centers operated by the U.S. Forest Service, including the Trapper Creek and Anaconda centers.
Montana’s congressional delegation opposed the idea.
Daines listened Friday morning to several of the students’ stories about lives that had been going nowhere fast before they found Trapper Creek Job Corps.
Dressed in his black Trapper Creek firefighting shirt with a phoenix on the back, Robert White told Daines that he had been just two months out of prison when he first heard about the center surrounded by woods near the banks of the Bitterroot River.
“I thought it was too good to be true,” White said. “I came up here and worked with the staff, and it’s given me an opportunity to change my life. I was headed down the wrong road. I had no drive or ambition to do anything with my life. After coming here, with the help of the staff and students, I do have hope now and confidence that I’m going to something with my life.”
In the bleachers just in front of Daines and White sat more than 100 other students — many wearing the bright-yellow shirts and green pants of a wildfire fighter — with stories similar to White’s. When White and others who shared their stories about the importance of Trapper Creek finished talking, the room was filled with loud applause.
Almost three weeks ago to the day, Daines called President Donald Trump after hearing the news about the planned Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center closings. Anaconda’s center was among nine operated by the U.S. Forest Service slated to be closed after Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that it was turning the CCCs over to the Department of Labor.
Under the plan, Trapper Creek would have remained open, but would likely have been turned over to a private contractor and all of its current staff forced to find new jobs or retire.
After explaining the situation, Daines said Trump agreed to keep Anaconda open and operated as a CCC.
“He said, ‘I’ll reverse the decision of my secretaries. We’re going to keep Anaconda open,’” Daines said, in an interview after the event in the gymnasium. “I said, ‘Thank you, Mr. President.’”
He said he then went to work on saving Trapper Creek and the other CCCs in the country.
Once the president and both the secretaries of agriculture and labor were provided with good information — including the fact that both Trapper Creek and Anaconda are in the top 20% of all Job Corps in the nation — Daines said they reversed course.
“I applaud leadership who are willing to relook at decisions that they have made and to more closely examine the facts,” he said. “The results here spoke for themselves.
“We want to be good stewards of the taxpayer dollar and be sure those dollars are being spent wisely,” Daines said. “This is an investment that pays a huge return. These students are literally being set on a different course in their lives, a course of being productive and contributing citizens to this country instead of going down the path of jails, drugs and the other stories that you heard here today.”
In the future, Daines said it will be important that Trapper Creek and Anaconda continue to keep the kinds of records necessary to show their accomplishments.
“I’m confident that when we have these outstanding sites like Trapper Creek and Anaconda that have been rated in the 20% of all centers in the country, they will continue to earn their keep by the results they are producing here in the changed lives of their students,” Daines said.