By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
Even before he was a chef with his own restaurant, and now the executive chef with the Marion-Polk Food Share, Steve Morton was working toward his career.
While in high school, he and a group of friends would head to an A&W stand where they could get five Coney dogs for a buck on certain nights.
“We’d go and try to create the best hot dog we could,” Morton told a group of Claggett Creek Middle School students Thursday, Jan. 16. “Doing that helped me figure out what tastes I liked. It was my earliest training as a chef. I was training myself to know what I liked, and how I might be able to make it better.”
Morton was visiting the school along with more than two dozen other professionals representing a wide swath of potential careers from culinary to computer programming. The event was sponsored and and run by representatives of the Ready to Learn – Ready to Work program coordinated by the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, Keizer Chamber of Commerce and the Salem-Keizer School District. The Panther eighth graders who took part in the event got to select four presentations to attend throughout the morning.
In addition to telling students what they did to prepare for their careers, the volunteer presenters offered advice regarding what the students could be doing while preparing to join the workforce.
“Every little dive I worked in prepared me for what I do today at the Marion-Polk Food Share,” said Morton, whose duties at MPFS include engineering the Better Burger, a meatless, but nutrition-packed alternative for emergency food boxes. “No matter how small your job is, it can help you make future decisions. Even if it’s something you don’t like, that helps you figure out where you want to go.
“Leave yourself lots of options. Find the people who have passion for what they do and talk to them.”
There was no shortage of passionate professionals in attendance.
Lisa Landucci, owner of the Albany-based Musicafé Rock School, performed for students and told of her own path into the music business. Landucci recorded her first 45 rpm record when she was about the same age as the current crop of CCMS students. Her career led her to Nashville where she shared the stage with Clint Black, Colin Raye and Johnny Cash.
She encouraged students not to let social pressures or cliques to stand in the way of making music.
“There are opportunities for you to make your own music. If you play guitar, find someone who plays percussion and form a band. Ask if you can play at a school function. The first time my school got up and cheered for me, I was hooked,” Landucci said.
In a moment of happy-random-circumstance, Landucci also sang a rendition of Old Crow Medicine Show’s Wagon Wheel with the granddaughter of the the man who led her first band.
Firefighter-paramedic Ben Stevenson, with Keizer Fire District, shared with students the things that drew him to his career and what he gets out of it now.
“I like the variety and challenge of the job and solving problems for customers. It’s a good feeling to help someone in need,” Stevenson said.
KFD Chief Jeff Cowan, who attended with Stevenson and Christi Maben, used the opportunity to recruit students for the KFD’s Explorer program.