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Job ad changes local woman’s life after college

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JoAnn Lopez

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

With an associate’s degree in computer application systems and 15 years of subsequent job experience, Roswell resident JoAnn Lopez could be far along in a career for a computer or software company.

But somewhat serendipitously, Lopez discovered a higher calling that not only changed her career path, but her personal life as well.

After graduating from Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell, Lopez was looking for a job and saw an open position with Job Corps.

“I had never heard of Job Corps,” she said. “I needed a job so I applied for a scheduling position.”

Shortly afterward, Lopez moved on to another job, but she can still count the days she worked at the new position before she left.

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“I went back to Job Corps after 85 days,” she said.

Except for that very brief stint at a different employer, Lopez has worked at Job Corps for 15 years.

She is now the business community liaison/work-base learning coordinator. Her job does require a lot of computer skills, so those techie classes were not a waste of time.

Lopez acknowledges there’s probably more money to be made in the private sector than a federally supported program that prepares young people, most of whom are at-risk, for a full-time job, college or the military.

But there’s more to life than just making gobs of money.

“The benefit to me is changing the life of a student,” she said. “Seeing them walk across the stage and graduating. That’s priceless.”

Job Corps was established in 1964 and is overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.

There are Job Corps centers across the country. The Roswell center, which is like a small college campus beautifully landscaped by the students themselves, is located near ENMU-R.

The centers focus on at-risk youth between the ages of 16 to 24 and will accept veterans of any age.

The free program includes hands-on training, housing, meals, basic health care and a living allowance.

The Roswell center offers vocational training in car maintenance and light repair, facilities management, electrical, painting, security and protective services and culinary arts. From time to time, the culinary arts students get the opportunity to show off their skills catering for various events around town.

Most of the students at the Roswell center come from somewhere else, but others live in town and commute.

Besides getting a job in a high-demand area directly after graduation, students can choose to go onto another Job Corps center for more specialized training, go to college or join the military.

Job Corps career success standards are divided into eight categories: communications, interpersonal skills, workplace relationships and ethics, multicultural awareness, information management, personal growth and development, independent living and career and personal planning.

Lopez said that learning those standards helped her become a better person.

“The intense training I got as an employee helped me raise my children,” she said. “It changed me as a person.”

Lopez has four grown children and 10 grandchildren. Her husband is deceased.

Lopez was born in Big Springs, Texas, but only stayed there for a short time as her father’s work required him to travel a lot.

“He was an All-American (horse) jockey,” she said. “A famous jockey, Willie (Bill) Shoemaker and his wife used to babysit me when I was little. I was born in Big Springs but didn’t actually live there.”

She grew up in both Hagerman and Muleshoe, Texas.

Lopez said she does a lot of volunteer work through Job Corps.

“A few years ago, MISTIC (the Matrix International Security Training Intelligence Center also located near ENMU-R) took a group of students to Orange County in California to set up the Olympic Trials. They set up for the pentathlon, which has 10 events, and also judged the events.”

Lopez, who accompanied the group on the trip, said the kids were thrilled by the experience. “Some of them had never been out of town.”

Lopez concluded by saying that 2003, the year she started working at Job Corps, was the toughest year in her life.

“My dad and brother both died in that year,” she said. “I’d never have thought I’d get past that, but my mom is the strongest lady ever.”

Along with a mother’s love, perhaps working at a job that enriched her life so much also helped Lopez get through those tough times.

Community News reporter Timothy P. Howsare can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or vistas@rdrnews.com.