My younger siblings joined me in giving our first interview (click to watch) about Oklahoma Distilling Company. The news story is centered on our support of local education, however a one minute clip doesn’t provide the full story. I want to give a greater backdrop to why and how Oklahoma Distilling Company plans to donate a portion of profits to local schools.
Before becoming a teacher, I studied cooking at vo-tech and hotel management at university in Stillwater and Las Vegas, worked in casinos in Nevada, and then went to grad school in Oregon where I worked with an awesome team studying the adult beverage industry, which led to a thesis on mead (honey wine). This is when I learned to distill, and make beer and wine. While I took night classes at Oregon State, I was an AmeriCorps Volunteer. AmeriCorps is the domestic equivalent of the Peace Corps; work full time for $500/mo. I was a youth volunteer coordinator.
My colleague and I received an MLK Jr. Semester of Service Grant. We used the money to partner with IMPACT, a physical activity program for children with special needs. Seeing our volunteers work with the children of IMPACT had an impact on me. Since I couldn't afford to start a distillery or meadery after graduating and completing my 1500 hours with AmeriCorps, I decided I wanted to work with kids.
My wife and I got jobs as elementary teachers at an international school in China. An international school is not an "English School." It's a K12 school for expatriates (foreigners). There was a six month gap before we were to go to China, so we spent time in Guatemala where I worked for a little brew-pub making beer. Making beer was a lot easier than teaching. While my kids and I had a blast my first year, I wasn't the best teacher. I had a lot to learn. I enrolled in a University of Cambridge ESOL program and then did an MA in Curriculum and Instruction.
(My first year teaching)
I ended up becoming an assistant principal, then the head principal, and later the vice president of international education company.
(As principal, with a former 3rd grade student crushing it. Future President of Korea.)
I think what we’re doing at Oklahoma Distilling Company is pretty cool. However, life’s not just about doing “pretty cool” stuff. I want Oklahoma Distilling Company to use whatever platform we have to support causes worth supporting. I can’t think of a better local cause to support than our state’s public school system.
Here’s how Oklahoma ranks:
Overall – 47
Chance for Success – 44
School Finance – 48
Achievement – 37
There were a number of years where my siblings and I survived on WIC and free lunch. Fortunately, my grandfather left provisions to ensure college was accessible for my siblings and me. My wife was smart and hard working enough to get scholarships to cover what her parents couldn't.
It takes a community of support to ensure access to education. Not everyone has parents or grandparents to help them fund education. Not every public school is equal. I know I've been given opportunities I didn't earn just by living in the right neighborhood and because of the family I grew up with. Having access to education and not having debt from school has given my wife and me the freedom to travel and to be able to save enough to start a distillery.
I used to recruit teachers to come work overseas. It amazes me that Oklahoma can even get teachers. When I was at OSU recruiting teachers, I saw Tulsa Public Schools offering $32,900 next to Carrolton-Farmer’s Branch (TX) $52,425. As a state, we need to do more for our youngest generation. I believe it's imperative for all Oklahomans to support raises for teachers, so Oklahoma gets and retains the best teachers possible. The state also needs to increase the budget for schools. I also believe that businesses have a duty to support their community.
For these reasons, as we become profitable, a portion will go to foundations supporting schools.