Joe Caldwell - Better Way Electric

      Scrapbooks kept each year by his mother are filled with pictures of Joseph Caldwell, his favorite – among those is of him as a child dressed as a cowboy. Joe, a graduate of the class of 2020, remembers that childhood desire but no longer dreams of being a cowboy. After his K-12 education, all completed at Sutherlin, he was met with the reality of deciding what to do next, a daunting task as he genuinely had no idea what he wanted. He considered continuing school or entering the military, but he did not want to pursue those options at that time. He possessed some work skills, as during school summer breaks, he did landscaping, and in his senior year, he worked at a gas station after the end of the school day. He was familiar with working with animals as he had also participated in FFA, raising pigs and a steer, and had first-hand experience of those responsibilities. What Joe did know was that finding a job quickly was a priority. He began working at Tractor Supply, and while there, the Sutherlin Fire Department approached him about joining the Firefighter Scholarship Program.    He was awarded a scholarship and began working towards his certification. He enrolled in the Fire Science program at UCC and worked as a student fire intern at the Sutherlin Fire Department. The internship was unpaid, but the scholarship covered his tuition. He balanced a schedule of 24 hours on and 48 hours off at the fire station with his UCC program classwork, a combination of fire science and emergency medical training (EMT) courses. He enjoyed being part of a team and giving back to the community, but he realized it wasn't the career he desired, so he decided to look elsewhere. He began constructing pole buildings; this job is where he found working with his hands and being outside was his preference. While he appreciated this job and liked his employer, after fifteen months, he knew this job did not have an opportunity for him to advance any further; fortunately for Joe, his employer realized Joe's ambitions and encouraged him to enter a trades program, going as far as to make a few calls on Joe's behalf. The next thing Joe knew, he was applying for the apprentice electrician program. He was contacted by Bill Ratledge, owner of Better Way Electric, and for the past six weeks, has been diligently beginning to discover the ins and outs of this trade. Joe works with two journeyman electricians, learning the basics from the ground up while crawling under homes, running wire through conduits, trimming out homes, working on lighting fixtures, and assisting with service calls – listening and doing what he is told. Projects he has worked on include service calls, replacing lighting fixtures at the Senior Community Center with LED lighting, pedestal replacement at a mobile home park, and installing lights at the YMCA indoor tennis courts. Joe has learned that "patience is key; a half hour spent in planning saves you four hours in correcting mistakes; and be willing to accept you will not know everything." This is a career Joe can see himself doing for the rest of his life and one day having his own business. 

       While Joe enjoyed the camaraderie of teamwork in sports, FFA, and the classroom, his senior year did not go as planned. It was interrupted by complications and uncertainty brought about by Covid. Senior year events he had anticipated and looked forward to, such as sports, prom, and graduation celebrations, were either non-existent or diminished. During the last few months of the year, his education was a letdown also when the Oregon Department of Education announced that high school seniors passing courses as of March 13th would receive a final passing grade and full credit for those courses, graduating immediately. For Joe, it was an abrupt stop from the personal daily interactions with friends, teachers, and classmates and a hard dose of reality. He missed the encouragement of teachers who genuinely wanted him to succeed in his endeavors and discovered he had to be self-motivated to work for what he desired.

      Joe found that the one aspect of his education he lost due to this abrupt end of his school year was a lack of knowledge in personal finance skills. At the same time, SHS teaches an economics class; Joe missed out on the fundamental basics of money management, which are taught in that class. He learned these skills, which are vital to everyday living the hard way: he has learned to create a realistic budget, use and manage credit cards, and build his credit rating and why it's important. In addition, when he moved out on his own, he learned about renting and reading rental agreements, setting up utilities, and the importance of paying bills on time. He has started thinking about financial planning for his future. He wishes more time and a more in-depth curriculum was taught on money management skills and that those skills were learned before the senior year of school.   

     Joe continues to reside in Sutherlin, renting a home. Depending on the season, he loves hunting deer, elk, or bear; if there is a season for it, he hunts it. In addition, he likes watching football and racing, as well as teaching his young chocolate lab to find shed antlers (after hunting season has passed).  

     Despite Covid's challenges in his senior year, Joe has applied what he has learned in school and his work experiences and continues to persevere to obtain his goals.