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HR in the Car - Episode 24: "The Other Degree"

  • Our first, admitted Black Belt joins the show to give us a lesson or two on what Workforce Development can do for the generations to come. Crickett Thomas-O’Dell shares her experience helping businesses like Albany Can Code and Hot Crispy Oil find the funding necessary to create job opportunities in our local communities.  

    About Crickett

    Crickett Thomas-O’Dell joined WDI in 2019 as the Regional Director-Capital Region after spending over three years commuting bi-weekly to Washington, DC as the VP of Operations for a transportation services company. In January 2022 she was promoted to the Statewide Pre-Apprentice Program Coordinator/Director of Community Engagement.  Prior to WDI Crickett spent the bulk of her professional career working in education settings- enrollment management, print to digital learning environments, international educational travel and STEM curriculum implementation at the high school and middle school levels.  Her professional career began in telecommunications in the voice and data industry. 

    A graduate of Albany High School (NY), both her undergraduate and graduate education occurred at Russell Sage College and Sage Graduate School where Crickett was very active on campus receiving several honors and awards for her contributions to campus life.  She also played both volleyball and basketball for the Sage Gators.   

    Crickett and her husband Dennis are the proud parents of one daughter, Brianna (Bre) who after graduating from Shenendehowa High School followed in her parents’ footsteps and played collegiate basketball at RIT- Rochester Institute of Technology, while studying engineering.  

    Living in Saratoga County Crickett and her family enjoy basketball – she and her daughter Bre are both basketball referees, and Crickett is also a high school volleyball and the martial arts referee. Crickett holds a 5th degree Black Belt in Karate and a 1st degree Black Belt in Judo. A member of the Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Albany, NY she is active in the Usher Ministry, the Women’s Ministry, the Praise/Liturgical Dance Ministry and sings in the Women’s Day Choir.   

    Crickett currently serves as the President of the Saratoga Sparks Girls AAU Basketball organization, the Secretary/Treasurer of the Capital District Girls Basketball League, a statistician for the NYS Public High School Athletic Assoc. Media Committee-State Basketball Championships and has served previously on several boards including the Troy YWCA, Troy Boys & Girls Club, RSC Alumnae Association, NYS Association of College Admission Counselors, the National Association of Graduate Admissions Professionals, Faculty Member for the National Assoc. of College Admission Counselors, and the Capital District Counselors Association.   

    Working within a wide range of industries through meetings with businesses, educational institutions, community-based organizations and unions, Crickett has developed strong relationships and collaborates with a network of professionals who are dedicated to workforce development solutions with a focus on preparing youth, women and underserved communities for the workforce of today and tomorrow. Her position now focuses on making sure that statewide there are opportunities specifically for people of color and women to gain the skills necessary to become members of the unionized building and construction trades.
    Crickett works very closely with the NYS Building & Construction Trades, several Workforce Development and Advisory Boards, Labor Councils, and High School Career & Technical Education Committees. She has been featured in the Capital Region Women@Work magazine and the Albany Business Review, and has been asked to serve on several panels to present workforce development issues and trends. Most recently she was named a 2022 Woman of Distinction by Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh-NYS Assembly 112th District and a 2022 Woman Who Means Business by the Albany Business Review. She is also a member of the Capital Region Professional Women of Color and a 2021 graduate of Capital Region Chambers’ Leadership Tech Valley/Capital Region Leadership. Recently she has been asked to join the NYS Economic Development Council, the Upstate NY Black Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and the Center for Economic Growth Leadership Board.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell
    Statewide Pre-Apprentice Program Coordinator/Director of Community Engagement-Workforce Development Institute (WDI)
    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

  • Voiceover: Welcome to HR in the Car with Miriam Dushane and Tom Schin of Alaant Workforce Solutions where exciting HR professionals and business leaders share laughter, insider stories, and maybe even a few tears about HR in today's world. Buckle up for the best half hour of your week.

    Miriam Dushane: Today we're going to talk to one of my favorite people in the world. I've known her for, oh gosh, it's got to be about 10 years now. Before she was ever at WDI, she used to work for another organization in the academic space and the poor thing traveled 100% of the time. But anyway, so Crickett Thomas-O'dell is going to be joining us to talk about WDI apprenticeship programs and the skilled trades.

    Tom Schin: Awesome. I think she's also been spending a lot of time with the Building Trades Council, as I understand-

    Miriam Dushane: Correct.

    Tom Schin: ... and she's got a great story to tell around all the opportunities that the trades provide.

    Miriam Dushane: Absolutely. Take a listen. So Crickett, welcome to our podcast. I am so glad that you joined us and I want to learn more about what you are doing at WDI. So just share with us your title and your current work-

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Sure.

    Miriam Dushane: ... that you're doing at WDI and what WDI is for people who may not know actually what WDI is.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: And that's a good point. Well, thank you for having me, both of you. As I already said earlier, I am splitting my time now between WDI, Workforce Development Institute, and the New York State Building and Construction Trades Council and WDI, which I found out was a best kept secret, we are state funded and so like everyone else, we're waiting for that budget to be passed because all of our funding comes through the state. If you look through the state budget legislature and all that great stuff that people love to read, I'm sure, you'll find us underneath AFL CIO and you'll see Workforce Development Institute.

    Miriam Dushane: Oh, didn't even know that myself.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: We've been there for about 20 years now, and what we do is I call it the C3, F2, we convene, we collaborate and we consult when it comes to businesses, organizations, not-for-profits, any and all people who are looking to strengthen and build their workforce. And then we could also facilitate and fund, that's the other part of it, the F2. So C3, F2 is how I remember it, and I tell people that cocktail parties or as we call it, our elevator spiel, that's what we do. And my husband laughs because he says, "Wow what a great job. You get to go around and give out money to people." And I'm like, "Yes, I do, because I'm helping to strengthen the workforce." So if you are any of those entities I mentioned before, not-for-profit educational institution, a business that's looking to strengthen your workforce through some skill building, through training, through equipment, then that's who we are. We are the people who you come to, and if we can't provide the actual consultation that you need or convening that you need or collaboration needs that you have, then we'll facilitate and provide funding for you through what we call our facilitated funding program, which is great. It's a reimbursable grant that we'll provide for you. The grant application is four pages long. It's really, really easy, if you will. I know a lot of people hear the word grant and they're like, "Oh my God."

    Miriam Dushane: Oh no. It's going to be 50 pages.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Forever, yes, and require a lock of hair of my firt-born child.

    Tom Schin: And you don't know that you're disqualified until you get to page 49.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Exactly. Whereas we tell you up front that this is a great project. Fill up this four page form and we'll get the process rolling for you. We turn it around in about two and a half weeks up to a month, so with-

    Miriam Dushane: Wow, that's great.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: It is. It's really-

    Miriam Dushane: It's pretty fast.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: That's why we're really popular once people find out who we are.

    Miriam Dushane: Yeah, definitely. CanCode's original seed money actually came from WDI.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Absolutely. Annmarie Lanesey will share that story with folks how when it came to figuring out what she wanted to do with her program, we were the ones who she came to. We provided that, as you said, the seed money for her program. And we do that for a lot of organizations. I think about the fact that before I took on my current role, which has been in place for a year and a half now, I was the regional director for the Capital Region. So I just had nine counties here in the Capital District that I did all those things for. And the projects that I got to get involved with, they're life changing because you're able to, again, help a workforce either become stronger in terms of their workforce needs or help lift them up from where they were. And so yes, it's been, for me, leaving that but moving into what I'm doing now, I just get to heighten that because now I'm working with the New York State Building and Construction Trades Council, and they oversee all of New York state's building trades. So the skilled trades that you hear about, the carpenters, the plumbers, the steam fitters, piper cleaner, all of that-

    Tom Schin: Pipe fitters and electricians and all that.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Oh gosh. We have roofers. We cover carpenters, operating engineers. I should know them all by heart, but I don't yet. There's 15 to 18 depending on where you are geographically.

    Tom Schin: Wow.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: And as I said, the New York State Building Trades Council covers all of them in terms of providing the umbrella for their union members to know that this is an organization that's here to make sure that we keep all of your benefits in place, your pensions in place, working on project labor agreements where projects are going to be coming up wherever you are located, and it's been very exciting, very interesting. This morning, I was at a breakfast with our Speaker from the Assembly, Carl Heastie, because our ties to the elected officials are very strong in terms of making sure that they know what labor needs and we know what they need. And it's been, as I said, the past year and a half, very exciting going throughout New York State, learning about the different trades that are out there, but also specifically focusing on the work that I do.

    Miriam Dushane: Mm-hmm. Definitely. And the skilled trades are so very, very important. We were talking before we started recording about how the aging workforce, when it comes to the skilled trades, it's a, I hate to use the word epidemic, but it is. People do not live forever-

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: True.

    Miriam Dushane: ... and the last time I looked, and it's probably older now, the average age of a skilled tradesman nationally was about 55 years of age.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Absolutely. But that happens because, again, you are coming into an industry that has a wonderful pension plan. And so when you are starting out, sometimes 18 years old in a skilled trade, you have a pension plan, a retirement plan that allows you to retire with dignity. You can retire at 55, 60 years old, and if you want to start another career, but you have your boat, your car, your whatever, they might have a new boat or old boat, but either way, they have all these things in place so that they can retire with dignity and have a great life.

    Miriam Dushane: Well, and I think that's the misperception of the trades. I was talking to a mom and she was talking, kind of lamenting almost in a way, about her son potentially going into the trades. And I was like, "Do you realize how much money these individuals can make?" And once I educated her a little bit, her entire tune changed. So that misperception of these trade jobs not being good career opportunities, it's scary to me. We need to get the word out that that's not the case.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Absolutely.

    Tom Schin: Right. I think they get lumped in or categorized with these one-offs, the person in the van who's doing it for the summer, and then snow plowing in the winter and then trying the next career out the next summer, and just this vagrant model of employment-

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Exactly.

    Tom Schin: ... that the parents or relatives or family just think, "This person can't hold down a job," versus the one who's actually making a career, making the investment in themselves as well as with the outfit that they're working for, whether it's the union or otherwise. I think that it just gets a bad rap.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Right. And we focus strictly on unionized construction industry, but to your point, there are the day laborers who, as you said, they are here to do a job, and it's typically not well paying as if you were in the unionized construction industry, whereby we call it, "The other degree," because the gatekeepers to folks learning about what the great careers are and the skilled trades are not only just the parents who don't know, but also, and I can say this with all due respect, the school counselors. One of my graduate degrees is in school counseling, and if you go into any school counselor's office, you'll see the pennants there from all the Ivy League top tier schools, because unfortunately or fortunately, that's the way a lot of school counselors, guidance counselors as some of the folks call them, are gauged. That's how they're rated, by the number of students you get going into those top-tier D1 Ivy League schools. And so are they going to talk about the trades? No. And I think back when I was in high school. I never ever heard about laborers, about union, about organized, the workforce. I never heard about that.

    Tom Schin: No. Here in New York, where I grew up, up in the sticks, there were your academics, as you mentioned, the ones that are pushing you, "What college are you going to?" And then they categorize quote unquote as the BOCES kids, which you look now, all the great things that the BOCES programs do here regionally and across the state, I think there's just a lot of misinformation about what these programs and skills-

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: If you went over to the Capital Region BOCES over on Albany Shaker Road, oh my gosh, you would be amazed. They just opened a brand new facility there, and what they provide those students is just phenomenal. And again, the fact that we can't get that word out as much as we should is what's scary because we do need to address that gray tsunami that's occurring with all your retirements happening. So I am very pleased because, just a side note, with the Capital Region BOCES, we just had about two weeks ago a signing day ceremony, and if you are involved, and yes, again, in true transparency, our daughter was a scholar athlete. She went to Shenendehowa High School. She played varsity basketball. So we were part of the whole hoopla of our kids, who were they signing with, and then everyone come down to the gym and all the classes were canceled, big assembly and media was there, and the kids would be signing off on what schools they were going to, what they're playing in. And granted, they deserve that attention. They deserve all that-

    Miriam Dushane: Hype.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: ... hoopla if you will and hype, but what about those kids who were not going on to college because they knew that at that time, "I don't want to go to college because I want to become an electrician," "I want to become a carpenter," "I want to become a roofer"? Do we just ignore those students?

    Tom Schin: They don't get celebrated.

    Miriam Dushane: Well, right now we are. That needs to change.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: But not anymore. Again, we had to signing day ceremony at the Capital Region BOCES-

    Miriam Dushane: Nice.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: ... two weeks ago whereby the focus was on those students who were going on into those type of careers.

    Miriam Dushane: That's awesome.

    Tom Schin: The apprenticeships and so forth.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Yes.

    Miriam Dushane: I love that.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: An apprenticeship program is a four year or five year degree granting type of program as well, because most apprenticeship programs will require at least four or five years to get through. You start off in year one as an apprentice, and you're making above minimum wage, sometimes $ 20 an hour. And there was talk right now in some of the trades whereby they're at looking to even increase that more, but so you start in your first year with over $ 20 an hour.

    Miriam Dushane: You're basically getting your education and being paid for it at the same time.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: At the same time, as we say-

    Miriam Dushane: Come on.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: ..."You're learning and earning." And you're not incurring-

    Tom Schin: You're four years ahead at this point.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: And you're not incurring any debt. You're not incurring any debt whatsoever. And again, as a parent who sits here, and again, in true transparency, our daughter went on to play and study at RIT. Now being one of private colleges, it is-

    Miriam Dushane: Cha- ching.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Very much so.

    Miriam Dushane: I can raise my hand. My son went there for a year and actually decided that it wasn't the best fit for him and moved on. But cha- ching.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Yes. And because they wanted her so badly for her to play ball for them, they gave us some money, but still...

    Miriam Dushane: Still.

    Tom Schin: Not enough. We had the same conversation with my youngest. He got accepted there and the amount of financial they were giving still wasn't going to eclipse where he ended up going, which was Buffalo. And they still had the better overall value for us, and he loves it there. And that's no fault to RIT.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Exactly.

    Miriam Dushane: And I say the same thing, Crickett. My son just graduated from SUNY Oneonta with a computer science degree and my daughter's in college right now. I do not have a college degree, but my dad was a heavy operator engineer. So I knew that, and I probably know more about skilled trades and tradesmen than maybe other people. Not that I was going to do that, but the reason I never pursued it was because I didn't think I could. So think 20, 25 years ago or more when I was a teenager, I saw my dad do it. My dad's this big burly guy, but I'm a girl. I'm not going to be a carpenter. I'm not going to be a mechanic. I'm not going to-

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Oh.

    Miriam Dushane: ...operate a bulldozer. But I saw-

    Tom Schin: Four-foot nothing. A hundred and nothing.

    Miriam Dushane: Hey, five foot. I'm five foot nothing. Not four foot.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: In heels.

    Miriam Dushane: But I recently saw... In heels... I'm five three or five four in heels I'll have you know. Anyway. But you recently released, I know I saw it through your feed and you were involved with it, a video about the trades, and what particularly interested me was it was a female, a person of color, who I think was operating a bulldozer or a backer or a crane.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: She's operating engineer.

    Miriam Dushane: Yes.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Yes. Absolutely.

    Miriam Dushane: So tell us a little bit more about that awareness campaign, because more girls need to see this.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Absolutely. And that's, again, part of what I'm doing now is building that awareness and that promotional video that you saw, look further in it because you'll see a young blonde woman, probably four foot, who is a carpenter now.

    Miriam Dushane: I think I might've seen her, but maybe I didn't watch the whole thing. It's possible I didn't watch the whole thing.

    Tom Schin: It's a young Miriam. That's what it is.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Yes. It-

    Miriam Dushane: It's a little me? It's a little me?

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Yes, absolutely. She's a carpenter.

    Miriam Dushane: Yeah. I love it.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Yes. But that proportional video was created so that we can share it in places like schools, other places whereby, again, you don't get the knowledge and awareness of what is available in the skilled trades. And so for us to do that, we utilize actual apprentices, first year apprentices for most part, I believe all of them are first year apprentices. So to hear their story, to hear them tell you that, "Wow we're so glad we got involved in this pre-apprenticeship program because we never would've known that this was available for us." And that's the key, helping people to know that this is something that's available for them. Because had I known this, back to our daughter who we love dearly, I joined WDI what, 2019, 2018?

    Miriam Dushane: Yeah.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: So learning all about the skilled trades and the unions and labor unions and all that's involved in them. So I'm sharing all this information at home with my family, my husband, her dad, and her, they're hearing all about this. And by that time, she had come back here from Rochester. She was out there, got a job after RIT, then got transferred back here. And so we'd ask, "So how's work going?" "Yeah, yeah, yeah." Unbeknownst to us, to her mom and dad who were every month paying that Parent PLUS Loan-

    Miriam Dushane: I feel you.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: ... she went and joined the carpenters union.

    Miriam Dushane: Are you kidding me?

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: No, I'm not.

    Tom Schin: That's a tough pill to swallow. You applaud her for chasing her dreams.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Yes.

    Tom Schin: Right?

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Absolutely.

    Tom Schin: But knowing what-

    Miriam Dushane: At the same time, you're like-

    Tom Schin: ...tuition bills look like...

    Miriam Dushane: Looking up to the sky. Why, Lord, why?

    Tom Schin: I look at those types of things though, and not that you want any family to have to go through spending 20, 30, 40, $50,000 a year for four years to discover that they want to go down a different path, but the ones that are in school or are on a track or whatever to change majors is super common. My youngest has changed his major. He's on his third one. Hopefully he stays there and he's only finished his second year.

    Miriam Dushane: Well, you're lucky it's just changing the major, because I had two kids and I had-

    Tom Schin: Changed schools.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Changed schools.

    Miriam Dushane: ... six, six, different T-shirts, which I was completely supportive of because I could go off on a tangent about how it's very unfair for us to try to have these young people figure out what the heck they want to do at age 17.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Exactly.

    Tom Schin: But it's also the argument for the families who have this poo- poo thought of community colleges. No, there's an experiential part to going away and being responsible.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Absolutely.

    Tom Schin: Whether it's to go away to the four- year school, to two- year school, some other educational method or apprenticeship-

    Miriam Dushane: Apprenticeship.

    Tom Schin: ...any of that, there's an experiential portion to that. It's just you had to pay for your experience.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: And we're still paying for it. I'm probably paying for it until they put me in the ground. But again, as you said, she's happy now. She loves what she does. She has, like I said, the security, if you will, of having the benefits that they provide, the earning while you're learning, the increase that you get every year that you're an apprentice and bottom line, she's happy.

    Miriam Dushane: And that's the most important thing. But one of the other things which I think is super important, we were talking about this, I was talking about this group of professionals the other day about pensions. We have to do a better job of educating our young people of what the hell a pension is-

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Absolutely.

    Miriam Dushane: ... because they don't know what it is. Their parents don't have pensions. They have 401Ks, if they have that, and they have their own, if they are wise enough or have the ability to save outside of 401k.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Exactly.

    Miriam Dushane: And so, "But they have a pension." I was like, "You have to tell them what a pension is."

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: What it is.

    Miriam Dushane: That's not a selling feature for them.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: No. It has to have relevance.

    Miriam Dushane: You have to explain what that actually... Exactly.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: It has no relevance to them. And unless your parents are talking about it on a regular basis, which my husband being the financial manager in the house, he is talking about those things.

    Miriam Dushane: Good.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: But yes.

    Miriam Dushane: See, I think that's just as important because the benefits-

    Tom Schin: Little tell about the eye roll.

    Miriam Dushane: Benefits are expensive and the benefits that are afforded to skilled tradesmens in unions are far superior.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Absolutely. You can compare them any other industry, whatsoever, especially-

    Tom Schin: The power of numbers.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Well, exactly. There's strength there. There's strength in numbers, and the fact that we have so many folks who are in the unions and unions are on a comeback. Again, outside the skilled trade, look what's happening with the Starbucks, with the Amazons, with all the other industries outside of construction that are saying, "Hey, we recognize we need to have a voice because no one else is looking out for us, so we need to have a voice that's going to help us to, again, get us to secure those benefits, secure opportunity for have pensions." That's important-

    Miriam Dushane: Absolutely.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: ... for your life in terms of quality of life. And especially when it comes to looking at a quality living wage, people shouldn't have to work two and three jobs to try to support the family.

    Miriam Dushane: Absolutely.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: And when you have a good paying unionized construction industry job, you don't have to do that anymore.

    Miriam Dushane: Amen.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: It's a career.

    Miriam Dushane: Absolutely.

    Tom Schin: Well, and I don't think it is broadcast enough that you go into those skilled trades, learn proverbially, so how to swing a hammer, how to run a wire, that sort of thing, but it's not to say that you're going to swing a hammer for 30 years.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: No.

    Tom Schin: There's superintendents, there's foreman, there's leadership opportunities. Maybe you learn how to do multiple, and so I think people think, "I'm going to be stuck in this one vertical for the rest of my life."

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: No.

    Tom Schin: And that's just...

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: That's not the case at all. In fact, and that's what I use to help me deal with writing that check every month to Parent PLUS is that she has the education that she can now-

    Miriam Dushane: You're not bitter at all, are you?

    Tom Schin: Maybe she runs her own shop someday.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Exactly.

    Miriam Dushane: Exactly.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: She has that education behind her now that she can now take this, maybe move the ladder even faster than someone who didn't have a college education behind them.

    Miriam Dushane: Absolutely. There's value in a college education, but it's not the only avenue. So the more we can talk about it and sing it from the rooftops, the more happy I will be about it.

    Tom Schin: It's a choose your own adventure, really. You think about those books when we were kids, it's a choose your own adventure. You can go this route and steer left, and the Oregon Trail effect, you get dysentery and all that fun stuff.

    Miriam Dushane: Okay. Let's not go down the dysentery.

    Tom Schin: I want to circle back to the WDI piece because you mentioned something about CanCode communities coming through WDI for some of the funding. I'm wondering about any other local success stories that you might be able to share with us.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Oh gosh. Other local success stories. And I've been away from the Capital District per se for, like I said, over a year and a half now, but I know we work with all of our skilled trades unions in terms of providing them with equipment for, again, their apprenticeship programs. I think of a couple that I did. Remember the restaurant that was in Downtown?

    Tom Schin: Mm-hmm.

    Miriam Dushane: Mm- hmm.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: And during the pandemic, what happened with a lot of restaurants, of course closed down as well. And that is a 40- year, I believe restaurant that second generation was running. But again, the pandemic forced them to close the doors. Well, the son was in the kitchen one night apparently putting together some concoction and served it to the family and they loved it. And they're like, "Wow, you really should sell this," and he was like, "Yeah, I wish I could." So he was trying to do it from the entrepreneurial perspective as best he could. Someone said, "You should call WDI," and at that time I was in that position whereby he reached out to me and I was like, "Oh, so what do you need? What are you trying to do?" And typically we don't work with entrepreneurs per se, but in this case, the family business had been established for a while. And what he had had been proven to be a solid product. And we were able to provide him with a grant that he was able to open up his own commercial kitchen. And so now if you're ever in Price Chopper, Market 32 or go online and you look for that, it's called Hot Crispy Oil. It's in a jar and you can put it on anything. I put it on my scrambled eggs, pizza, whatever, but Hot Crispy Oil comes in two flavors, extra hot and regular. And we were able to provide him with that commercial kitchen, which now his, of course, business has blown up-

    Miriam Dushane: Wow.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: ... significantly.

    Miriam Dushane: All right. Got to know, are you a regular or are you a extra hot?

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: I am half Jamaican, so I do the extra hot.

    Miriam Dushane: Yeah, baby. So I'm going to go a little bit, and we're running out of time, but I want to get this in. I learned something fascinating about you probably about a year ago, and that you are a black belt.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Mm- hmm.

    Miriam Dushane: Tell us really quickly about that before we go.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: My mom put me in judo when I was 10 years old. She got tired of coming home and seeing that my older brothers and younger brothers who are bigger than me had used me as a football, basketball, just torture.

    Tom Schin: Oh dear.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Yeah. They tied me to a tree, try to set me on fire. They were horrid. They were horrid. So she heard about this judo class that was a summer program. She put me in it and I stuck to it. I studied judo from 10 years old up until 17. I when went to Russell Sage College and it was great that the Troy Judo Club was right around the corner from where I went to school and after making black belt in judo on the second floor of 177 River Street was the Troy Sato Karate Dojo. And so I always heard all that going on upstairs. So I was like, "Oh." I went up there and I was like, "Oh, that's interesting," and decided to start studying karate as well and so I've been studying karate, haven't been studying judo, but karate since then, and yes, I'm a fifth degree black belt.

    Tom Schin: Wow.

    Miriam Dushane: She's a badass.

    Tom Schin: So you're going to travel into the other martial arts as well in terms of jujutsu and taekwondo?

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: No, karate's fine. We get exposed to them though through our study, and when you get this high up in the rank, you of course now learn about the different styles that are out there and you run into different people who are out there. I also get to participate. There is a North East Open martial arts competition that happens here every August, and so I get to judge in that competition and we see the different styles that are available out there. It's great to be in something that, no matter what stage of life, even through pregnancy, through getting knee surgery, you always come back to it.

    Tom Schin: Yeah. How often a week are you going?

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Twice a week. I try to get there now in what they call the golden lions class. It's for those of us whose knees are not able to throw the high roundhouse or jumping back spin kicks anymore.

    Miriam Dushane: I love it. All right. So in closing, really quickly, roadside assistance tool in your toolkit. What comes to mind?

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Prayer.

    Tom Schin: That's the first one.

    Miriam Dushane: I love you so much. It's more the reason why you're one of my favorite people.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Oh, thank you.

    Miriam Dushane: Amen to that. And I'm not being sarcastic. I believe in the power of prayer too.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Absolutely. And I use that when I'm going into a meeting. I prayed before I came here. He thought I just needed the ladies room. I went in to pray before I came to do this, but before I go into a meeting, into any setting, before I go to referee a basketball game, for sure-

    Miriam Dushane: Heck, yeah. You definitely need-

    Tom Schin: You need it there.

    Miriam Dushane: ...the angels around you there.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Absolutely. But for me, prayer not only allows me to open up that channel of communication with me and the Lord, but it helps to ground me and center me as well.

    Tom Schin: Love it.

    Miriam Dushane: Thank you so much for joining us today.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: You're very welcome. Thank you for having me.

    Miriam Dushane: I wish we had three hours to talk about because we have so much we could talk about on this topic.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Thank you.

    Miriam Dushane: But thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it.

    Crickett Thomas-O'Dell: Oh, thank you guys for having me. This is great.

    Tom Schin: Thanks. Hot Crispy Oil. How do you like that? As far as the success story, you try to think of something notable, but hearing her talk about, and you weren't seeing it because you were listening, but to see the smile on her face, talk about Hot Crispy Oil and how that came to fruition from the gentleman who's in this La Serre restaurant family. I love those stories where you see somebody come out of a hard time and create something really, really successful and they were a part of it that no one even knows about.

    Miriam Dushane: Exactly. I actually agree with her that WDI is a really good kept secret and we need to get the word out a little bit more like we talked about.

    Tom Schin: Make it not a secret.

    Miriam Dushane: Make it not a secret. CanCode Communities literally got their start from the seed money of $75,000 that they got through WDI and look at it today.

    Tom Schin: Yeah. All across the state.

    Miriam Dushane: Absolutely. And how can we not talk about her daughter being a carpenter now? How crazy and full circle and ironic is all of those things?

    Tom Schin: I think everything in some degree, we talk about karma, some things happen for a reason and maybe she had... It's an expensive lesson to have, don't get me wrong, but being the student athlete part, that probably helps some-

    Miriam Dushane: Definitely.

    Tom Schin: But I feel her pain with the Parents PLUS loan she has. I hate to laugh.

    Miriam Dushane: Do you have two or three of them?

    Tom Schin: So I'm closer to the finish now and everything's covered so far, so we're thankful for that.

    Miriam Dushane: Yep, I know. I'm down to one. Jack graduated, so I'm down to one. But to learn more about Crickett, please go to Check out the show notes that will be associated with her podcast. We'll have information about WDI and all of the different programs that she's involved with, and thanks so much for listening. Until next time.