Students in Countess Wilkerson's class are getting prepared for life beyond the classroom door. The CrossRoads Learning Center teacher invited McDuffie County Firefighter and Emergency Medical Technician Ed Lewis to talk to her students about the fire department's cadet program. But Mr. Lewis had other priorities to emphasize.
"No matter what career you pursue, no matter what you want to be, it all starts with your education," he said to the nine high school students. "I've seen too many people going from here to nowhere. Life is too short. In my eyes, y'all are adults. Don't be a follower, be a leader."
Ms. Wilkerson proudly introduced Mr. Lewis as one of her former students, all the while keeping her task as an educator in mind.
"Tell them how you got into the profession," she instructed Mr. Lewis. Turning to her students she added, "Whatever you do, you've got to enjoy it. Can you imagine getting up every day for 40 years and going to a job that you don't enjoy?"
The 25-year emergency services veteran briefly described the decisions that influenced his career choice and gave a promotional overview of his job.
"Do you know how people end up looking for jobs because they've been laid off?" he said. "Well, we don't get laid off, so this is a smart job."
Mr. Lewis passed around photos of teens in the county's cadet program, in which youth ages 13 to 17 participate in the same training as current volunteer firefighters. Each cadet must have a sponsor, which is a firefighter in the department who acts as a mentor.
McDuffie County has the only fire department in the area with a cadet program, according to Mr. Lewis. The program has 14 participants. Mr. Lewis said participants must maintain a C average in school and must participate in "rigorous training."
"They are having a ball and they really enjoy it," he said. "The door is open to anybody, but you've got to want it."
When several students asked questions showing their interest, Ms. Wilkerson didn't let the opportunity pass. Rather than follow the original plan of telling students to go to the fire station and apply for the program, she asked Mr. Lewis to bring applications to the school.
"We will have a class where we learn how to apply for a job," she said.
Any teen interested in the cadet program may call Fire Chief Bruce Tanner at 706-595-2045 or visit Station No. 2 beside the airport.