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Helping them get on the right path

Rugby alum Anderson enjoys her role with Job Corps

November 30, 2009
Edie Wurgler

Dawn Anderson didn't set out to be a mentor, confidante, counselor and substitute mom to young adults, but that's where her career has taken her and she couldn't be happier.

Currently living in McKinney, Texas, a north suburb of Dallas, she is Director of Finance and Administration at the Job Corps center there. She is responsible for seven departments in the sprawling center which is home to more than 600 students.

The national Job Corps was founded in 1964 by Lyndon Johnson as one of his Great Society programs, but Dawn says these days it hardly resembles the original model. It has evolved over the years to become a safe place for young adults ages 16-24 to receive an education they couldn't get anywhere else.

"It's a program that includes academic and vocational education and employability training," Dawn says. "Students live on center and are taught social skills they are lacking. Some are high school grads, but the majority are not. Students can stay as long as two years."

It was while working for Job Service North Dakota in Minot that Dawn first learned of Job Corps. "When the Quentin Burdick Job Corps Center opened in Minot the first stop was at Job Service to recruit employees for the facility," she said. "I interviewed with the first center director to let him know I was interested, and actually started working there one month before the center opened. The rest, as they say, is history."

Dawn's own history started in Rugby, where she was born. She grew up at Pleasant Lake, where her parents, Marlene and the late Donald Anderson, farmed. After graduating from Rugby High School she worked at the Good Samaritan Hospital for two years, then attended Minot State University where she received an Associate's degree in Accounting in 1982. Twenty plus years later, after living and working in Minot, she went back to school and received a Bachelor's degree from the University of Mary, Bismarck. The final leg of her educational journey was completed this past summer when she received her Master's of Science in Management at Minot State University. Most of her Master's classes were online, but she spent two months in North Dakota finishing her degree.

The need to spend part of the summer in the area gave Dawn an opportunity to see more of her sons, Casey and Derek, who live and work in Minot. She also re-connected with old friends and visited relatives in the area, including her mom and step-father, Marlene and Don Hoffman, her aunt and uncle, Curt and Jane Ekren, and a great-aunt, Irene Hager.

Visiting locally gave Dawn a chance to renew old memories of growing up in the scenic little hamlet of Pleasant Lake. "I had a town grandma and a farm grandma," she said. "My cousins also lived in Pleasant Lake and we spent a lot of time playing and baking. We didn't have anything to fear, and had a great time riding our bicycles everywhere. We always had company for Sunday night supper--friends of my parents or my great-uncle, Adolph (Kjelstrom)." She remembers taking lunch to her dad and grandpa in the field, helping her dad with chores, trekking to the beaver dam. "It was the best childhood," she recalled.

Dawn has good memories of school, also, especially her first grade teacher, Connie Stenson. "I had opportunities to continue contact with her and even played in a golf tournament with her a few years ago," she said. "Mrs. Stenson is such a sincere person, a characteristic I try to emulate."

In high school, "My favorite classes were business classes from Mr. Schilke and Mr. Baumann," Dawn said. She took part in typical high school activities, playing in the band, holding down a part-time job at the Pierce County Tribune, and, of course, dragging main with friends.

Dawn believes her work ethic can be traced to her family and also to the influence of co-workers in her first full-time job at the Rugby hospital. Dianne Carlson, Bonnie Kuehnemund, Julie Axtman and Doris Sveum were all hard workers, and helped teach her the way to treat people. "I wouldn't trade that for anything," she said.

When she was growing up Dawn didn't give a lot of thought to what or where she wanted to be as an adult, and considers herself very fortunate to be in her present position. After leaving Minot she spent nearly three years in Kentucky with Job Corps before moving to Texas in January, 2009. She misses North Dakota and the people, she says, but "I'm afraid I don't miss the cold and snow!"

In her director's position Dawn could isolate herself in an office and not interact with students, but she chooses to be actively involved. "I make sure I'm not removed from them," she says. "I spend a lot of time in the cafeteria. I help provide transportation. I make sure records are accurate." And like a good mom, "I check up on them. I address behavior and I address the dress code."

Occasionally, however, a student will mess up, a situation Dawn finds particularly dismaying. "The part of my job that I really dislike is when a student with so much potential makes a bad decision and ends up losing their opportunity for the program," she said.

For Dawn, the big reward in her work is the young adults who do succeed. Even after they are out of the program a lot of students keep in touch with her.

"So many of our students come to the program and have never had anyone care about them and believe in them. It is great to be able to give them encouragement and let them know that someone sees their potential and will help them be successful," she said.

Dawn has become so close to one student that she calls him her adopted son. "He lives in Alabama," she said. "Since I'm coming back to North Dakota for Christmas he thinks he should come with me and meet the rest of the family," she added, with a hearty laugh.

Dawn's future plans are to continue in her present job. "I know that I want to work in Job Corps until I retire," she stated. She could move up the job ladder and work at the corporate level or for the Department of Labor, but for now she is not ready to leave the center level. "I would love to be a center director at some point," she said. "I want to maintain contact with these young adults. Our students are addictive, and Job Corps is in my blood."



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