Like it or not, we all live in a fully commodified world—that is, a world in which we must pay to survive. This means that the vast majority of us must find some type of work to do which grants us access to the means of survival (money). Depending on our socioeconomic status, gender, ability, and race, we are afforded various means of fulfilling this mandate to work, thus we gradually find our niche among the various industries and options available to us.
As Americans work an average of 47 hours a week, it is fair to say that our work plays heavily into our overall sense of happiness—our ability to find and create meaning in our life. In fact, that’s exactly what the latest Gallup Poll shows. If our work is a significant source of stress in our lives, as it is to 80% of Americans, this can seriously affect our overall happiness and health. From health risks to difficulties with relationships to depression, continuing to work in a stressful and meaningless environment can have drastic consequences, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
In light of this, we interviewed three Corvallis locals who describe themselves as very passionate about their work; that is, their work has intrinsic meaning for them outside of simply surviving within a wage economy. We were curious why they cared so much about their work, even when it is difficult, sometimes heartbreaking, and oftentimes thankless.
Kari Whitacre Stands Up for the Disadvantaged
Kari Whitacre is the executive director of Community Outreach, Inc. (COI), a local organization that has been serving the community for over 44 years. COI operates multiple programs designed to work together serving the low-income, under insured or uninsured, and the chronic and temporarily homeless populations who require emergency and basic services.
Whitacre said, “While providing temporary relief from hunger and lack of shelter is an important part of our core services, we work to identify and address the root causes of homelessness, poverty, addictions, and abuse. Not only do we address basic human needs, we also assist our clients in achieving long-term solutions that will enable them to become emotionally stable and secure permanent income and housing.”
She said that being part of a solution to a very real community problem is very rewarding; she has the opportunity to help changes lives in meaningful and real ways. Whitacre described herself as willful, determined, and honest to a fault, and it is her persistent integrity that drives her work. She has always known that she wanted her life’s work to be meaningful to others. “I was the kid taking the spider outside or standing up for some justice on the playground. I am wired to help those who need a hand up,” she said. “But what is most rewarding to me is to be a part of an incredible team of individuals who have dedicated their lives to helping people. I am so proud to be the executive director of this remarkable agency.”
Letitia Wilson Empowers Victims
Letitia Wilson is the executive director of the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence (CARDV), a local organization providing services and resources to those affected by sexual and domestic violence, as well as providing education and leadership within the community to change the societal conditions that cultivate these forms of violence. The CARDV crisis line takes over 700 calls a year from two counties and runs two shelters for survivors of assault.
Wilson has worked for CARDV for 14 years. She started as an intern working the crisis hotline while a student at OSU, and quickly discovered that this work was meant for her. “I was immediately pulled into the work without even realizing it,” she said. “Being able to validate these women and telling them that they don’t deserve the abuse they were receiving was very powerful for me.”
Over the years she has worked in almost every position at the organization. As executive director, she oversees all the trainings, the crisis line, and the community outreach programs. “It’s a lot to manage and keep track of, definitely,” she said.
Wilson noted that despite the demanding nature of her role and the emotional intensity, she loves her job. “Because so many people have experienced sexual assault and domestic abuse, what we do here really impacts everybody. By addressing this aspect of social violence, we are indirectly helping the entire community.”
When asked what she finds rewarding about her job, she replied, “I really love facilitating and attending trainings. We have 18 staff members currently, and watching them learn about these issues, become empowered leaders, and getting passionate about their work is very rewarding.” Wilson said that this job fits her personality well; she always knew she was going to be in a helping position. “I knew this was my life’s work from my first day of training, and especially after I was able to assist a woman out of an abusive situation who had called me at the crisis line. It was very empowering.”
Carly Lettero Works for the Planet
Carly Lettero works at the Corvallis Environmental Center (CEC) as the director of Energize Corvallis. She also works at OSU as the program director of Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word and as the program manager for the Environmental Arts and Humanities Initiative. The CEC also hosts the Avery House Nature Center and the Edible Corvallis Initiative in addition to Energize, which is a local approach to the global environmental crisis. As the director of Energize, Lettero is responsible for organizing and overseeing the many events, projects, and initiatives that take place in the community.
Although her work is demanding, this is how she sees it: “Earth is a beautiful, life-giving, mysterious, awe-inspiring home for humans and millions of species. I don’t think we have the right to destroy it.”
When asked about the most rewarding part of her work, she said, “I’m grateful for the creative, inspiring people I work with. Environmental problems are complicated, and working on teams with diverse ideas and approaches is rewarding for me. I’ve always loved dreaming up big ideas and then doing the years of work it takes to turn those ideas into reality. I’ve known I wanted to do environmental work since I was a teenager hiking in the Sierras.”
These three people are actively working to make our community a more supportive, safer, and sustainable place. They love their work because it is inherently rewarding and meaningful, and they are passionate because they are dedicated to making positive change. There is a lesson in here somewhere—these people seem quite happy.
By Jeriah Bowser