After graduating from high school in the small town of Mullan, Idaho, Kim Zufelt reached what she considered a dead end.
Mining was the main industry, which young women did not typically go into as a career.
Then one day, she found a brochure from Job Corps, the federally-funded education and vocational training program for young people 16 to 24.
After calling the 800 number and doing a brief phone interview, they sent her a bus ticket to Astoria.
“I had no clue what Job Corps was. I thought it was kind of like the Peace Corps,” Zufelt said. “I just took a leap of faith.”
That leap of faith would turn out to be a life-altering decision.
Zufelt graduated from the landscaping program at Tongue Point Job Corps Center in Astoria in 1985, and after entering the landscaping field for a few years, she returned to Job Corps as a residential living adviser.
Despite a few brief occupational detours, her heart never left Job Corps and she worked her way up. In July, Zufelt was named the director at Tongue Point.
“My passion for the program has never waned … I look back on my career, and it’s pretty amazing that I’m here,” she said. “I’m not sure there’s very many center directors that were former students in the whole nation.”
Her journey from student to director saw Zufelt take on many roles, which allowed her to witness and contribute to student development.
“I’ve seen hundreds, maybe even thousands, of kids or youth in my years that came in and just really needed someone to say, ‘Hey, you’re worth it, your potential is there,’” she said. “Then to see them change, and walk out that door and graduate. It’s super rewarding to watch them grow up here … I had a special connection with them being a graduate of the program.”
Zufelt wants her story to illustrate that young people facing adverse situations can still find a path to success.
“I hope it’s an inspiration for the students that come in here — that they can do anything and to set their goals high,” she said. “But it’s humbling in a lot of ways to be in this position and be responsible for so many young people.”
When Zufelt reflects on her path to director, student development holds the most weight, but one case stands out in particular.
She once received a letter from a former student who had graduated from the program nearly two decades before. The letter read, “I have been looking for you. Are you the Kim that saved me?”
The impact the message left on Zufelt was invaluable.
“It was the most validating and touching thing. Ninteen years and she still remembered?” she said. “I use that often to show staff how important it is to have relationships. Good mentors and positive, strong relationships with these students are really what changes them.”
Job Corps has used many different slogans over the years, but the one from the 30-year anniversary carries more significance for her: “It’s the best chance for change.”
“That has really stayed my motto for years,” Zufelt said. “It really is the best chance a young person has to change and grow.”