A Long Road

In 2014, Edinburgh-based Atterbury Job Corps celebrated its 50th anniversary — a staying power that speaks to the success of the organization’s programs. But it hasn’t always been easy.

By Clint Smith

Jeff Byrd, Atterbury Job Corps’ (AJC) business and community director, says it has been a struggle over the years to remind surrounding residents about the mission and purpose of the job-training resource: to serve as an asset to the community.

“Atterbury has always participated in community events, such as cleanups, food kitchens and holiday events each year,” says Byrd, but as quickly as the organization’s students would come in to help on community projects, local residents would forget about the value-added resource at their fingertips.

In 2013, AJC officials decided to change the narrative, promoting the organization’s students as community resources to local businesses and organizations and highlighting their unique skills.

Byrd had a conversation with (Franklin) Mayor Joe McGuinness at a Franklin Chamber of Commerce meeting that helped open the doors to a stronger community involvement for the organization. “I … spoke to him (McGuinness) about our mission and goals for our students,” Byrd recalls. “He was very supportive of the program.”

That conversation “led to Atterbury Job Corps connecting with community initiatives like the 66 Water Street Cafe … (and with) projects with the Franklin Fire Department and the Franklin Boys and Girls Club,” Byrd says.

At 66 Water Street Cafe, an initiative for Franklin College that “was being created to provide a cool coffeehouse atmosphere for Franklin College in the downtown area,” the college provided the materials and Atterbury Job Corps’ facility maintenance, carpentry, electrical trade and painting students installed flooring and electrical wiring and painted ceilings and walls.

In March 2013, AJC also developed a partnership with Franklin Heritage Inc., a nonprofit and historic preservation organization, which specializes in salvaging architectural components around Franklin. All of the profits from Franklin Heritage’s architectural salvage shop benefit local organizations like the Historic Artcraft Theatre.

“Facility maintenance students and carpentry trade students provided skilled labor on the renovations of the historic theater and on two additional historic homes owned by the preservation group,” Byrd says. These experiences “provided students unique, real-life, hands-on training opportunities. You can watch videos and create mock builds for students, but getting in the real world and dealing with old materials, time constraints and human error is an education in itself.”

Byrd suggests that as these types of restoration projects require skilled labor not easily found through volunteer recruitment, this type of relationship is “a perfect match” with which to accomplish goals of both AJC and Franklin Heritage.

“I believe we have enabled Franklin Heritage and the Artcraft to accomplish some of their goals at an advanced pace,” says Byrd, “allowing them to entertain other cultural events and benefits to the community that may not have been planned until years down their timeline.”

Alex Seebaugh, 19, was one of those young people who was instrumental in the Artcraft project. He was a student from Buffalo Creek High School in Michigan and began working with AJC in July. “The overall (experience) was fantastic,” says Seebaugh, who originally signed on with AJC for welding, but transitioned to the facility maintenance program.

For him, the success of AJC is owed to its instructors. “It’s (the program) free education and training for those who really need it,” he says. “And they have instructors who actually care and they’re actually concerned about your success.”

In 2015, AJC will partner with Girls Inc., located down the street from the Franklin Heritage renovation projects. “There are plenty of projects to keep Atterbury Job Corps busy with hands-on training, even as we expand our community projects into the Columbus and Indianapolis communities,” says Byrd.

“The final goal for our students,” he says, “is to find employment opportunities, so a program like ours needs a thriving relationship with local communities to connect with employers to identify those job opportunities and potential internship partners.”

And while student profiles vary widely, each young person approaches the projects as opportunities to not only transform existing structures, but also themselves.

“A successful student is a self-motivated individual who is focused on improving their place in life and building themselves a long-term career,” Byrd says.