News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Repairing a truck restored a future

To graduate from high school in Oregon a student must have 24 credits in a variety of subjects. In September 2020, the start of his senior year, Astyn Buring had completed five.

“Astyn was always a nice kid, but I couldn’t get him to respond,” said Neil Fendall, dean of students at Sisters High School.

Astyn moved to Sisters in the fourth grade with his brother, mom, and stepdad. By the time he was 14 years old, Astyn was living in a trailer with his 16-year-old brother, on a property outside of Sisters owned by his brother’s girlfriend’s family.

“My sophomore year, my brother and I would skip class, drive around out in the woods, and work sometimes,” said Buring. “I didn’t really have any structure at that time because I was living alone.”

At one point his sophomore year, Astyn was officially unenrolled from Sisters High School.

That is when Rod Robinson stepped in.

“Astyn and my son, Jackson, were friends around age 14,” said Robinson. “Astyn would come over to our house, and would spend the night, and the boys would work on Jackson’s grandfather’s old Ford pickup.”

Robinson describes Astyn as a great kid, very polite.

“I could see the talent, the excitement he had working on the pickup,” said Robinson. “He had talent — he just didn’t have anyone helping him.”

Robinson is a local business owner, of Robinson & Owen Heavy Construction, and also a partner in Sisters Rental & Storage, run by co-owner Pat Thompson. Robinson told Buring that when he was old enough to drive, he would give him a job at one of the companies. When Astyn started driving a couple years later, Robinson approached his business partners, Pat Thompson and Mike Owen, and said, “We need to help this kid.”

Because of the great working relationship between the three owners, they were immediately on board without even meeting Astyn.

“I knew putting him here at Sisters Rental, with all the great guys to push him and help teach him, he would succeed,” said Robinson.

Astyn started a job at Sisters Rental doing maintenance and cleanup in November 2019, and at that time had re-enrolled in school, and moved in with his grandparents in Redmond.

At Sisters Rental, Astyn was doing maintenance, but because of his mechanical aptitude, the guys at the shop started having him help “turn” equipment (greasing grease points, adjusting, and fueling equipment so it’s ready for the next customer), and was doing a great job, according to Thompson.

“I called Fendall on the way home from work one night and said, what can we do to help this kid,” said Eric Spor, sales/service at Sisters Rental. “We knew about his situation with school, and his home life, and we just wanted to see him succeed.”

Fendall set up a meeting with Thompson to make a plan.

“I’ll never forget that first meeting,” said Fendall, “Pat said, ‘we told him school comes first, work second.’ I said, what if we flip that? What if it’s work first, and school’s second, but we use work as the slingshot to get him back into finishing school?

“Astyn was always polite, and would show up every once in a while, and do a little work,” said Fendall, “He barely did anything that first year and ended up with maybe two credits. I was nervous because Astyn had dug a pretty big hole. When the rental shop would check on his progress, I told them, usually when the finish line starts to appear, they start cramming stuff in.”

At the start of his senior year, Astyn needed 19 credits to graduate. He had spent the summer working at Sisters Rental, and right before his senior year, Astyn was struggling with paying the diesel bill for his truck, and experiencing some mechanical issues with it as well. Robinson, motivated to keep Astyn in school and working, offered him a truck with incentives.

“We gave him a truck,” said Robinson.

The truck, a 1996 Ford, was used as both an incentive to finish school, and a reliable means of transportation to come to and from Redmond for work and school. The deal Robinson made with Astyn was they would give him the truck to use now, but if he finished high school, they would transfer the title to him.

“Once I had the truck, I didn’t want it taken away,” said Buring. “I was overwhelmed with the amount of work I had, but I knew I was going to do it anyway.”

Every weekday after school started, Astyn would come to Sisters Rental, and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., he sat upstairs in a 2,500 square foot room, with nothing in it but a folding table, a chair and his laptop, cranking away on more than three years’ worth of missed work.

“Most days I sat by myself up there,” said Buring. Eventually, when Sisters School District went to a hybrid schedule, Astyn would attend school two days a week, and the other three days, he would clock in at 8 a.m. at the rental shop, and work on school until 5 p.m.

“He slacked a little bit, and we would get on him,” said Thompson.

If Astyn didn’t show up on his scheduled days, staff at the rental shop would call him, and remind him of his commitment.

Thompson and his staff provided a flexible schedule for Buring.

“Sometimes I would come in early, like 3 or 4 a.m. and do my schoolwork when our mechanic got to the shop, so I could be done early enough to hang out with friends,” said Buring.

Pat Thompson bought Astyn’s lunch every day he was there for school.

“We told him if he needed a tutor, we would hire one,” said Thompson. “Sometimes other kids would show up and work with him.”

“The pressure of not letting anyone down at the shop kept him going, I think,” said Robinson.

Fendall had permission from Buring to share his progress with staff at the rental shop.

“Even when I got my credits up to 12, I was, like, ‘wow,’” said Buring.

Astyn completed the 24 credits required to graduate on March 5, and is eligible to graduate with his class on June 4.

“I couldn’t believe it at first,” said Buring of his accomplishments.

“I’m very proud of him,” said Robinson. “Astyn realized the opportunity he was being given, and he took advantage of it, but he was always very appreciative.”

“This is a story about Sisters Rental, and Astyn,” said Fendall. “All I did was give Astyn online classes.”

This unofficial program represents a significant opportunity for local businesses to create options for kids, who need their educational experience redefined.

“A lot of local businesses have shown interest in forging this type of relationship, but the gap is in labor-type of job opportunities,” said Fendall.

Mechanics, welding, farming, and landscape architecture are all examples of job-based educational opportunities that Sisters School District doesn’t offer.

When I asked Astyn what he would tell someone in his same situation, he said simply: “Don’t give up. It’s all about structure. That’s very important in making it work, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Robinson said Astyn has great potential to work at either Sisters Rental or Robinson & Owen, doing work as an equipment operator, equipment mechanic, estimating jobs, sales/service, or a variety of other possibilities.

Astyn plans to attend classes at COCC next fall, and is very interested in trade school.


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