By Ron Juergens, Program Specialist, Seattle Regional Office
I would not have gone to college had it not been for the War on Poverty. As a high school junior in 1965, I enrolled in the Neighborhood Youth Corps, a new Federal program that provided summer jobs for youth from low-income families. The income limit for our family of four was $3,000 a year and I easily qualified.
During the summers of 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1968, I worked full-time as an office worker, first at my high school guidance office, then for the Veterans Administration and the Defense Contract Audit Agency. I made $1.25 an hour in 1965 and $1.60 an hour in 1968, the federal minimum wage, and I learned invaluable work and social skills. I was able to save enough money to pay tuition for junior college and transfer to Florida State University in 1968 to complete my degree.
I graduated in 1970 with a degree in education and taught remedial reading in southwest Georgia the first year of school desegregation there. I taught migrant children in Belle Glade, Fla. I was a Job Corps recruiter in rural north Florida and a Peace Corps volunteer in St. Lucia, West Indies. I came to Washington, D.C., in 1982. I was a writer for the U.S. Consumer Information Center, an internal communications specialist at General Services Administration, and a public affairs specialist and speechwriter with the Administration for Children and Families in the 1990s. Then I discovered the Pacific Northwest and transferred to the regional office in Seattle, where I have been a community services liaison and TANF specialist for ACF in this, my chosen home, the most beautiful part of the country.
This May I will mark 32 years of federal service. I couldn’t have done any of this without the opportunities the War on Poverty provided me through the summer jobs program of the Neighborhood Youth Corps and the support and encouragement I received in the places I worked. I wish every young person graduating from high school today without money for college could have these opportunities. On this 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, I am pleased to tell my story and express my appreciation.