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Sowing hope

In introducing Jim Trett as the 2016 Keizer First Citizen, Mark Caillier, the previous recipient of the award, spoke on what volunteering means.

“Volunteers instill hope in others, which develops pathways to success and the ability to sustain activity to achieve goals,” Caillier said. “Our 2016 First Citizen honoree has sown the seeds of hopes.”

That might seem hyperbolic, but ask the man in his 30s who told Trett that he was likely the reason he hadn’t ended up in prison, or the other one who came back to town recently and called up Trett to meet for coffee and said, “Every time I needed somebody, you were there for me.” That’s not hyperbole. That’s the brass tacks outcome of helping someone find their way back to hope.

Trett said calling what he felt “surprise” at the honor of being named First Citizen was an understatement.

“I looked at the (other former First Citizens) that were up there and knowing what they did for the community – and a lot of the time it wasn’t the fun stuff that I was doing – and to be included and thought of in that way is tremendously humbling,” Trett said.

In light of his history of volunteerism, it actually isn’t all that surprising either.

Trett found his calling early in life. As a youth, he was frequently sidelined by health concerns and it led him to watching more than the average amount of television.

He became a fan of Jerry Lewis and through Lewis learned about the difficulties of children who battle muscular dystrophy. One day, at age 12, while recovering from an eye injury, he was watching The Mickey Mouse Club and a segment on kids in California collecting bottles to raise money for polio research stuck with him. He spent the next two years collecting bottles with a group of friends and sending the money he recouped to the muscular dystrophy association.

He also set a goal of becoming a camp counselor at the Salem YMCA where he met the man he calls his mentor, Carl Greider. Greider not only welcomed him into the fold, but he tapped Trett as an organizer of a Big Brother-like program the YMCA was launching when Trett returned from living in California.

“I’d gotten involved with Big Brothers down there and Carl jumped up when he heard and told me I had to on the task force he was setting up,” Trett said.

Eventually, when help arrived in the form of a grant, Trett ended up running the program for a couple of years.

Trett had started as a volunteer in the fire service in 1974 and eventually applied for a paid role as the Keizer Fire District’s public education officer in 1995. Then-Chief Greg Frank had encouraged him to apply.

“It didn’t take much. I like the a-ha moments you see in people’s eyes,” Trett said.

The role took him into classrooms throughout the city continuing to work with youth, but a one-day safety course at Whiteaker Middle School hasn’t stopped blossoming.

“Apparently, the kids really enjoyed our time together and the teachers asked if there was something else I could teach. That’s when we started the CPR and first aid certifications,” Trett said.

In 1996, then-choir director Barb Fontana asked Trett if he would accompany the choir on a trip to Reno as a chaperone and first responder if the need should arise.

That led to him becoming a “choir groupie.”

“To go to a competition and watch the adjudicators praise our students, that’s something. We were in New York one time and one of the adjudicators stared at the kids for a while after they finished and said only, ‘Middle school?’ That brings such a sense of pride in your community and just being part of that is thrilling to me,” Trett said.

Trett retired from KFD in 2009, but his role at Whiteaker and now other schools only seems to expand. Last year alone, Trett helped certify more than 1,000 local students at Whiteaker, Stevens, Walker and Parrish middle schools in first aid, CPR or both.

He still gets stories from former students who put their knowledge to the test in the heat of a moment. Others will pull their certification cards, received years prior, from their wallets while standing next to him in line at the grocery store. A display of the moment when he empowered them to act in a crisis.

These days, it’s fairly difficult to do anything around Whiteaker without running into Trett. He’s handed out schedules, helped students collect food for their annual Stuff the Bus campaign and chaperoned dances. All of that is in addition to his role as a city councilor and mayor in his new hometown of Detroit.

Even though the students whose lives he touches get younger and younger each year, Trett said the secret to connecting with young people over the years hasn’t changed.

“My big thing is that if you treat kids with respect, they will reciprocate,” Trett said. “I feel like I’ve had some success in helping a few of them turn around.”