29 speakers, hundreds of students.
February 24th was Career Day at Walker Middle School. Classroom doorways were adorned with speaker and session schedules, students were arriving promptly to the rooms. Career Day had every look and feel of a professional conference.
For over a decade, the Salem Chamber has partnered with Salem/Keizer Public Schools on the “Ready to Learn, Ready to Work” program. The intent behind this effort is to expose students to those currently in the workforce for some discussion surrounding “how I got here”.
This particular event had a special feel.
While growing up in LA, Kent Wilson wanted to be a psychologist. He didn’t really know why, and it was clear that many students in the room felt the same way about their potential career choice. This statement resonated with them.
In high school, Kent noticed that the majority of his activities surrounded music, so he thought “maybe I’ll give this music thing a shot”. He moved to Oregon and attended Corban University, graduating with a degree in music and later earned his teaching certificate. Now, Kent is a professional musician giving music lessons and playing for various events throughout Oregon – including the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.
Kent said he was glad for following that passion, and couldn’t imagine himself doing anything else.
Sunny Saltamacchia is a drug and alcohol abuse counselor for Bridgeway Recovery Services in Salem. Sunny shared with students in his session the heart wrenching side effects of his selected career.
Sunny was invited to a funeral of one of his past “clients”, Travis. Travis had all the potential, but couldn’t break away from his cycle of addiction and ultimately took his own life. At Travis’ funeral, when the room was asked if anyone would like to say anything about him, nobody commented on his character or how fun he was to be around. One person broke the silence with “Travis loved cars”. The impacts of his addiction were in the silence.
The reason Sunny is excited to go to work every day is because of guys like Bryce. Bryce was displaced to Oregon from Louisiana by Hurricane Katrina. Moving to a new state brought its fair share of challenges, and as a teenager – Bryce’s chosen method of comfort was sought by smoking marijuana. A lot of it.
While Bryce addressed the room, you could hear a pin drop. His struggles led to time in a juvenile detention center and on probation. On his walk in recovery, Bryce encountered Sunny and Bridgeway. While young on his journey to adulthood, Bryce is finding a sense of hope in his life that he hadn’t yet encountered.
It was clear that the bond between Sunny and Bryce was strong. Sunny is more than a counselor to Bryce, and Bryce is more than a client to Sunny. This work is more than a job at Bridgeway.
The Ready to Learn, Ready to Work program fulfills thousands of speaking opportunities in Salem/Keizer Schools every year. One doesn’t need to be at the pinnacle of a career or life to speak. Simply encourage and offer stories to students.
If you would like to learn more about how to become involved, drop Chris Phipps (chris[at]salemchamber.org) at the Salem Chamber a note. She’s a pro at getting people plugged in to just the right opportunity.
A special thank you to those that dedicated their time to Career Day, and to the students and staff at Walker Middle School for helping everyone feel like a Wildcat.