“I realized if I didn’t change my path, I would probably end up in jail,” recalls 19-year-old Chris Alvear. “I tried very hard to find work. I even went to a job interview at McDonald’s in my best suit, but nobody ever called me back.”
Kids like Chris from across the country drop out of school every year, for many different reasons. The Oklahoma Department of Education reported over 4,000 students dropped out of Oklahoma schools just over the course of the 2010-2011 school year.
Young adults are often warned by family, friends and teachers of the consequences a lack of education will have on their lives. The Gates Foundation reports, “students who drop out of high school are much more likely than their peers who graduate to be unemployed, living in poverty, receiving public assistance, in prison, on death row, unhealthy, divorced, and ultimately single parents with children who drop out from high school themselves.”
It’s easy to slap society’s labels on people like they’re a disposable cereal box or soda can, but Chris isn’t allowing that shoe to fit. As Author and Motivational speaker, Wayne Dyer, said, “Judgments prevent us from seeing the good that lies beyond appearances.”
Chris moved to southwest Oklahoma just two years ago. At 17, life circumstances prevented him from completing high school. He had no job, no income, and even from time to time had no place to lay his head at night. “I’ve had so many people ignore me and not even give me a chance. I was desperate for a job, to get something done, but I was losing hope,” said Chris. “At that time, my mother was my only supporter.”
In September of 2011 Chris met Debbie Ailanjian, Youth Case Manager at South Western Oklahoma Development Authority (SWODA). Debbie spoke with Chris and helped him to develop a plan for his future.
The first plot on the course for the future was to take a test to receive his GED, General Equivalency Diploma. Chris passed with flying colors, scoring in the top 99th percentile for the entire United States.
After receiving his GED, SWODA placed Chris at the Southwest Technology Center where he served as an administrative assistant in the nursing program. “He’s a good worker and has been a great asset to us,” said Doug Johnston, LPN Director.
While assisting in the nursing program, he successfully completed medical terminology, CNA and CPR courses. “This has given me the opportunity to prove myself over and over again,” said Chris.
Chris is now working on earning his LPN certification at SWTC, which is one more step toward his dream of attending medical school. In November he will receive commendation from the Governor at the “Workforce Investment Act Alumni Celebration” at Oklahoma’s State Capitol.
When asked what advice he might give to other young people in his situation, he said, “You have to keep trying…keep searching and not get sucked in to whatever is going on around you. The biggest factor is motivation. You have to be willing…willing to prove yourself, make yourself better and work hard.”
Even more noble and encouraging than the endeavor are the foundations and motives behind it. “What I want to get out of this is to make a life for my family where we don’t have to worry about having food to eat or a place to live,” said Chris. “This opportunity with SWODA and SWTC has opened up the whole world to me, and some day when someone needs help, I want to be able to help…to pay it forward.”