Against All Odds

Teen Father, Randy Rood Memorial Scholarship Student Beats the Odds and Becomes a Firefighter

For many people, middle school is perfect storm of acne and embarrassing moments that makes the transition from child to teenager feel like an eternity.

For Bryan Sanchez, middle school changed his life. Bryan was a student at The Dalles Middle School when he decided to become a firefighter. His father was president of a local group for immigrants. When he attended conferences, sometimes Bryan joined him.

At one of the conferences, Bryan overheard an organizer talk proudly about his own son, who was a paramedic and firefighter.

“Me hearing them, I wanted to make my dad proud,” Bryan said.

The same year, Bryan met Carley, his future wife.

The two were a couple by their freshman year at The Dalles High School, then called The Dalles Wahtonka High School.

Good students and strong athletes — Bryan played soccer and was on the wrestling team, Carley played volleyball and softball — they thought about having a family one day.

But not yet. They had dreams to follow: college, careers.

During his junior year of high school, Bryan went to the local fire station and asked what he had to do to become a firefighter. He took the classes they recommended and during his senior year started doing ride-alongs.

“That’s when it hit me 100% that I wanted to become a firefighter, just seeing how the brotherhood works and how the community treats the department,” he said. “I wanted to do that and serve my community.”

Building a Better Future

When his parents moved to The Dalles to escape the violence in their native Mexico City, they hoped to provide a better life for Bryan, then 8-years-old.

That future was in danger when his first and only child was born — four days before his 17th birthday.

“I did see myself marrying Carley one day,” Bryan said. “I didn’t think we were going to have a family that soon. It happened, and everything happens for a reason.”

When their grandson was born, Bryan’s parents had reason to be concerned. The statistics on teen pregnancy are grim.

Mostly unplanned, teenage parenthood can kickstart a vicious cycle of poverty that is difficult to break. With limited job opportunities for young parents, only about half of teen fathers make regular child support payments and few marry the mother of their child.

After becoming a father, Bryan had to grow up fast. He and Carley married during their senior year of high school and planned to continue their educations. But they knew it would be hard to afford college and a family.

To help pay for expenses, Bryan received approximately $8,000 from the Randy Rood Memorial Scholarship, which eased the financial burden of fatherhood and allowed him to graduate faster.

“The scholarship supplemented necessities like groceries and bills,” he said. “It really helped me focus more on school rather than worrying about how to pay my bills.”

The Randy Rood Memorial Scholarship is awarded to graduating seniors from The Dalles High School, Dufur High School, Sherman County/Sr High and South Wasco County High. The $2,500 scholarship is renewable for up to five years.

It was established by former MCMC President Gary Rood and his wife Christine to honor his son who died of cancer. Since 2004, it has awarded scholarships to 151 graduating seniors.

Unlike many scholarships, which limit expenses to tuition and books, the Randy Rood Memorial Scholarship can be applied to any school-related expense.

Loving Father, Dedicated Firefighter

After taking prerequisites at Columbia Gorge Community College, Bryan transferred to Portland Community College and rarely had time to see his wife and son. When he was not attending classes or studying, he was usually working at the fire station.

The hard work and sacrifice was part of the deal he made with his wife. After graduating from high school, they both took college classes for about a year. But with a young son to raise, it was too complicated.

“We made a deal that I would finish school first and then she would go back to school,” he said. “I couldn’t be more thankful for her basically raising our kid by herself.”

After three and a half grueling years of work and classes, including a work-study program with Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue, he graduated from the paramedic program at Portland Community College. Last January he was hired as a fulltime firefighter for the fire department.

The department is lucky to have Bryan, said Robert Palmer, fire chief of Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue.

“Bryan is a wonderful asset to the fire district,” Palmer said. “As he stated early on as a cadet, his dream job was to become an EMT/Firefighter and he did just that. He is of excellent character, goal-oriented and driven. We are extremely pleased to have him as part of our Fire Service Team.”

Bryan enjoys being a firefighter and is excited for what the future holds. The couple is saving to buy a house and it is Carley’s turn to go back to school. She loves her job working with at-risk youth and plans to go back to college, so she can help local teens.

“With all the support we’ve had from the community I think we both want to give back in some way,” he said.

But for now, Bryan is enjoying spending time with his family.

“I love being able to take my son to his soccer practices, being able to take him to school,” he said. “Just the simple things. Now I have time to do it and I enjoy it.”