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A Force for Good

J.K. Rose | December 19, 2023

Impact | Hormel Inspired Pathways

A Hormel Foods Inspired Pathways Scholarship recipient feels destined to enter law enforcement.

Through its Inspired Pathways program, Hormel Foods provides free community college and one-on-one college advising for all children of its team members.

Colton Lammers’ first brush with the law came in 2006 when he was 16 months old. That’s when the Wisconsin native was abducted from his grandmother’s house by a noncustodial relative, triggering Barron County’s first AMBER alert. As police scoured the communities in and around the county looking for the toddler, his abductor heard the shrill AMBER alert alarm over a car radio and surrendered the boy.

Colton is now 18, and has only hazy memories of the event. But the idea of law enforcement as a benevolent, helpful force stayed with him. As a teenager, he became a devoted fan of “Live PD,” an Emmy-winning documentary series that followed police officers on patrol, broadcasting their actions in real time as they engaged in high-speed car pursuits, tucked intoxicated or belligerent citizens into the back of squad cars, or even reunited lost pets with their owners. The show got Colton thinking about possible career choices for himself.

“I’ve seen how helpful officers can be — how one individual can change many lives,” he says. “I want to be one of those police officers that helps everyone. I believe that is what God has sent me here to do.”

After graduating from high school, Colton decided to enroll in the criminal justice program at Chippewa Valley Technical College, a two-year program whose graduates go on to become sheriff’s deputies, border patrol agents, game wardens, security officers and yes, police officers.

Financial Aid Comes Up Short

But when Colton applied for financial aid, he received only a $1000 grant — his family would be responsible for the rest of the tuition bill of $6,500 a year.

Then his grandma intervened. Laurie Wooldridge, who raised Colton, worked as an administrative assistant and contributions coordinator at Jennie-O Turkey Store for 34 years before retiring in 2021 and heard about the company’s Inspired Pathways program, which pays two years of tuition to community college for the children of Hormel Foods employees.

I just cannot express enough gratitude to Nate. He went above and beyond, taking a personal interest in our situation by helping us reapply, which ended up as a huge blessing.

Laurie Wooldridge, administrative assistant and contributions coordinator at Jennie-O Turkey Store, retired

Because Laurie was retired, she didn’t qualify for the program. “It looked like a dead end,” she said. “We were disappointed; my husband and I didn’t save money up for these types of expenses.”

But Inspired Pathways Director Nate Lockett offered to review Colton’s application for student aid and found an error that, once corrected, resulted in Colton getting $7500 a year in federal grants, which paid his tuition in full.

His grandmother is thrilled. “I just cannot express enough gratitude to Nate,” Laurie says. “He went above and beyond, taking a personal interest in our situation by helping us reapply, which ended up as a huge blessing. He embodies the culture of Hormel Foods very well — giving back and being part of a team.”

School Is Top Priority

Colton is now happily ensconced in his studies. Currently nearing the end of his first semester, he’s taking six classes and making school his “number one priority.”

Among his roster of classes is “Introduction to Diversity Studies,” in which students learn about multiculturalism, ethnic relations, gender differences, sexual orientation and other topics in a bid to “increase the probabilities of respectful encounters” between community members and law enforcement. His favorite subject is “Constitutional Law,” in which students are “dispatched” to investigate crimes — roleplaying scenarios in which they collect evidence, interview witnesses, make arrests, write reports and even appear to testify in a mock court of law.

An added bonus of the program: All of the instructors are former cops, which allows them to give students an inside look at life behind the badge.

Grandma Laurie couldn’t be prouder. “I feel like it’s coming full circle with Colton — he’s giving back to the community, doing something to help other people. He’s going to be a very compassionate police officer.”

For his part, Colton would like to share the following advice with any high school seniors who are anxious about choosing a college major: “Follow your interests — if you know it’s in your heart, pursue it. Don’t hesitate, just go for it.”