San Jose Job Corps transforms lives of at-risk youth
Ruel Manipis leads a class on facility maintenance at SJ Job Corps on Thursday. Photo by Carina Woudenberg.

    Jezrrel Linares dreamt of becoming a veterinarian, but the animal lover was bored by his classes at Silver Creek High School and knew he didn’t have the grades to support such an endeavor.

    With no motivation to continue, he started ditching school. His two older brothers went through the training program at San Jose Job Corps and recommended it to Linares, who is now 18.

    “’You know what?’” He told himself at the time. “’I’m not doing anything with my life, I might as well go.’”

    So he looked into it.

    Jezrrel Linares poses with his graduating class at San Jose Job Corps Center.

    While the center didn’t have a veterinary program, Linares, who describes himself as a hands-on person, began the center’s medical assistant training program in August. Linares graduated last month and on Monday he starts a new job at the Foothill Community Health Center Medical Assistant Office. He’ll be responsible for giving injections, drawing blood and other procedures — tasks he mastered over the course of his nine month training program and internship at the Los Colinas Medical Center.

    “I actually believe giving injections or EKGs is relaxing,” Linares said on Wednesday. “It makes me feel in control, like I can do this.”

    Formed in 1964, Job Corps is the largest residential training program in the country. With help from federal funding, each of the more than 100 centers in the country provides career training programs and lodging to 16 to 24 year-olds at no cost to the participants. The students must meet certain poverty criteria and have no criminal history or serious mental health issues, said Leslie Gilroy, who is the center director at San Jose Job Corps.

    The center, based in east San Jose, offers seven job training programs, including medical administration, security and protective services, culinary arts, customer service, office administration and facility maintenance. It offers additional programming through Silicon Valley Career Technical Education, which provides carpentry, medical assistance, computer technology and more, says Gilroy.

    In addition to Santa Clara County, the center serves teens and young adults in neighboring counties with a majority of students living on the 10-acre campus. Gilroy said the San Jose center has 333 students now with room for 63 more.

    For recent graduate Samantha Gonzalez, her struggles stemmed from a teen pregnancy. By the time she turned 18, she was a single mother to a two-year-old daughter.

    “I had no career, no diploma and had nothing going for me,” said Gonzalez, 22.

    Gonzalez also pursued a program in medical assisting, a career path she wouldn’t have guessed would have interested her in the past. But after completing the nine-month program along with an internship at a doctor’s office, Gonzalez discovered that she takes joy in helping others.

    “It feels good just helping out,” Gonzalez said.

    Like Gonzalez, Linares says he’s back on track and setting goals for himself. After six months with Foothill, he wants to pursue a career with Kaiser Permanente because he heard that the organization will help pay for his schooling. His ultimate goal is to be a registered nurse and volunteer with the canine search and rescue unit.

    Gilroy says that while the center is required to track student success in more quantitative measures, she sees them grow in ways that can’t easily fit into data sets.

    “Being on the ground here at the center we get to see all those things you can’t measure,” she said. “Their dignity is restored, their confidence is built.”

    To learn more about the program or apply for a training program, visit

    Contact Carina Woudenberg at [email protected] or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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