My high school years were very difficult, and I don’t mean in the way that most teenagers struggle with coming of age. These years were painful for me. While I experienced troubles with school before, nothing could prepare me for what was to come.
By the time I was 13 my siblings had left home. It wasn’t an issue, until my mother became seriously ill and my father started drinking heavier than normal. After a couple of years in the hospital, my mother passed away. I ended up alone. But I was also responsible for all aspects of the family farm and high school life.
Like so many teenagers, I had many unspoken struggles and no one to talk to. As you might guess, I made some poor choices. Still, through my strife I learned the value of hard work and found confidence in my ability to get the job done. I also emerged with a deep empathy for young people and the issues they face.
This experience was so formative that it led me to become an educator. Over 41 years, I worked to be as best a mentor as possible—to listen, to respect and to learn. As director of the Clark County Skills Center, I worked with youth whose circumstances were far worse than mine as a kid. Others were much better off, but all of them were carrying heavy burdens while trying to navigate their place in the world. It taught me that we must lift young people up, so they have a better view of their future.
Now, in retirement, I’m still answering my calling. I volunteer in many capacities to protect, support and develop our youth. These organizations, and especially my role as Court Appointed Special Advocate, satisfy my deep desire to help young people whose lives have been turned upside down. I know what it’s like to feel alone at that point, which is why I will continue to volunteer—to help our youth discover the wonderful talents and traits add to this world.