March 2015
Youth Matters

Hard Work ... Big Rewards

Culvain Strang grew up on a small farm. He loves the outdoors, especially when he can hunt or fish.  

Faith, family and helping others are the foundation for high school senior’s
bright future.

While most high school students were enjoying Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, Culvain Strang was working a shutdown in Mississippi taking apart a boiler. The hourly pay rate for the job was $23, with overtime paying $34.50, plus per diem and travel. Strang worked 15 days during the holidays and brought home quite a hefty paycheck for a young man who is still in high school.

Strang explained that his uncle got him the job as a journeyman helper. A supervisor found out that Strang could weld, and put him to work welding skin casings on the outside of the boiler.

"It was real cold, and this kept me warm," he laughed.

  Strang welding in the lab at Alabama Southern Community College.

Nevertheless, it was excellent hands-on experience for Strang.

Strang learned to weld in a unique program started in 2009 at Thomasville High School. This program was a collaborative effort among Thomasville City Schools, the City of Thomasville and Alabama Southern Community College. In his junior year, Strang chose to enter the Dual Enrollment Program that allows a student to take college classes while in high school. Strang wanted to learn to weld, so he started in the 15-unit welding lab on the THS campus. An Alabama Southern Community College instructor taught the classes.

During his senior year, Strang has taken two courses at THS each term and then travelled to the ASCC campus, less than a mile from the high school. Each day, Strang takes welding and other related courses on the ASCC campus. When he finishes in May, he will be able to take two more courses at ASCC to receive his certification.

Strang’s welding instructors were not surprised when they heard about his working during school holidays.

"Culvain wants to learn," said Jeff McCutcheon, Strang’s welding instructor on the THS campus. "I never had to tell Culvain to do anything. He always came in and got right to the job he had to do. So many other students have the talents, but they choose not to develop them. It’s all about making the right choices, and Culvain’s got a good head on his shoulders!"

Brian McIntosh, Stang’s instructor at ASCC, echoed McCutcheon’s words.

The Strang family: (from left, front) Brittney Strang South, Pam Strang, Dana Strang; (back) Dean South, Culvain Strang, Andrea Strang and Nathaniel Strang.  

"If I had a shop full of Culvain Strangs, my job would be easy. Culvain follows the safety procedures and the rules of the shop 100 percent. Teaching Culvain is not really teaching. It’s coaching," he said.

In May, Strang will graduate with a 4.0 average on the Advanced with Honors Diploma Program at THS. He praised all of his high school teachers for his academic success, but one actually kept him from making a really bad decision. His ninth-grade science teacher Stephanie Wright encouraged Strang to stay in the more rigorous academic diploma program.

  Culvain Strang says Stephanie Wright, his ninth-grade science teacher, convinced him to stay in the more rigorous Advanced Diploma Program at Thomasville High School. Wright encouraged and supported him as he progressed through high school.

"I wanted to drop out of the Advanced with Honors Program, but she convinced me not to," he stated. "Mrs. Wright kept telling me that I could do it and urging me to try."

Strang noted that Mrs. Wright still checks on him and encourages him to do his best.

Strang attributes his work ethic to the way his parents raised him. He grew up working on his family’s small farm in the rural community just south of Thomasville. His dad Dana worked construction, so there were periods of time that the elder Strang was away from home. Strang, his brother Nathaniel, and two sisters Brittney and Andrea helped their mother Pam by working in the family’s garden and helping to tend the animals they owned. The family still raises chickens, ducks and geese. They also keep three horses to ride.

The Strang boys did yard work and tended the fruit trees their Dad had planted. Dana had taught his boys how to graft the fruit trees so that a peach tree could also have plums growing on it. He also taught the boys how to groom the trees so that more fruit would be produced.

Culvain Strang in the welding technology lab with his instructor Brian McIntosh. McIntosh says that working with Culvain is actually like coaching because he wants to learn everything he can.  

Strang loves living in the country. He grew up enjoying the outdoors, roaming through the woods, hunting and fishing. As he gets older, however, he admits it is harder to find the time for the hobbies he enjoys.

The Strang children have always been taught the core values of faith, family and helping others. For years, the boys and their father have done maintenance for their church, but they have never charged for any of their services. The boys also have their own lawn care business. For widows or those living on fixed or low incomes, the young men have never accepted any pay.

Nell Jackson, who lives just down the road from the family, is one of their customers.

"Those boys are so into helping people," Jackson explained. "They have done so many things for me, and they won’t ever take any money. They tell me that it’s their Godly duty to take care of widows. They are such hard workers. I just can’t say enough good things about them."

Strang says the person who has most influenced his life is his dad.

"My dad lives what he says," Strang said. "He messed up early in his life, but with the Lord’s help, he got himself straight. He always told my brother and me that ‘if you don’t work, you don’t eat.’ I’ve worked all my life, but I like to work!"

Strang’s parents have encouraged him to go to college, but at this point in his life, he wants to finish his welding degree at ASCC, add another trade option and then get a job.

"I like working with my hands," Strang said. "I don’t like sitting in a classroom. I really want to work construction, like my Dad did. Then, I can see where this takes me."

Welding teacher Brian McIntosh has no doubts Strang will succeed at whatever he tries.

"He’s just a natural. If he stays at what he’s doing, he will be one of the best!"

Carolyn Drinkard is a freelance writer from Thomasville.