Norma Colton was on the path to oblivion. At just 18 years old, she was homeless and strung out on booze and drugs. Finally, she called her mom and asked to come home.

I just couldn t do it anymore. I was on the verge of dying, she said. Mom took her back, but with conditions. Number one was get a job. But how? The only thing she was good at was getting high. I didn't have any direction or knowledge of how I was supposed to get a job, said Colton.

Then, Colton discovered Cascades Job Corps, a federally funded program that trains troubled teens with job skills, helps with drug problems and teaches them how to be a functioning adult. For Colton, it was a lifesaver.

Without it, I would be in jail or sitting on the street with a sign looking for a handout, she said.

Budget cuts, however, forced the center to close two of its 11 vocational programs. They also had to eliminate funding for 74 students. Those are 74 kids that won't get the chance to build a better life. There are now just 266 spots for all of the disadvantaged youth in Western Washington. The center s director, Kathy Howell, said it s heartbreaking.

They'll come and say, This is it. I don't have any other choices. I need to do this and I need to do it right because I don't know where I'm gonna go if I have to leave here. There were tears when we had to cut those spots, said Howell.

Despite the cuts, Cascades Job Corps perseveres, driven by the dedication of students like Norma Colton and their refusal to give up on themselves.

I can't change my past, she said. But I can learn from my past and make my future better.

Find more information on the Cascades Jobs Corps.

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