At Schools That Can, we’re passionate about young people building real-world connections and relationships with professionals across industries, helping students gain exposure to different career paths, develop the skills needed to ace a job interview, and imagine themselves in the world of work. Watching volunteers from a variety of fields connect with students is a highlight of our work…and we’re excited to highlight those volunteers with our Volunteer Spotlight Series! We’ll be talking to STC volunteers about their own education to employment journeys, best advice they’ve ever received, and more.

Interested in volunteering? Fill out our interest form here! 


VOLUNTEER SPOTLIGHT: Opal McCalla, MSOL, Safety Education Specialist in the Office of System Safety, New Jersey Transit

In a few sentences, tell us about your education to employment pathway. 

As a first-generation college student of immigrant parents, I received my Bachelor of Arts Degree (Magna Cum Laude) in Special Education and a Minor in Black Studies from SUNY at New Paltz College ‘95.  Additionally, I just completed my Master of Science degree in Organizational Leadership at SNHU ‘21.

What’s been a career highlight for you so far?

I am currently employed as a Safety Education Specialist-North Division at NJT/Office of System Safety.  NJT is the third-largest public transportation agency in the U.S.  In my role at NJT, I work passionately to bridge safety with civic engagement through public awareness campaigns and education initiatives. I facilitate safety presentations tailored to the needs of various audiences and ages, as well as organize internal and external events, curriculum development, data/analytics, and a host of other duties.  In this role, I have been able to expand the scope, reach, and impact of my youth and community development work.

Prior to my role here at NJT, my love and passion for youth development began with Youthworks (An International Exchange Program) which allowed me to travel and work with youth internationally (Israel, Egypt, and Paris).   That experience was the spark that catapulted my career and has been one of the big highlights of my work. Overall being able to pour into young people and have them realize and embrace their FULL potential has brought me the biggest rewards.  I continued my youth development journey with FEGS, The Boys & Girls Club of America, Leake & Watts, and lastly with Mind-Builders Creative Arts Center.

What’s the best career or work tip you’ve ever gotten?

The best career tip I have ever gotten has been to always be on time, be prepared, and SMILE.

What was your favorite part about volunteering with students?

My favorite part about volunteering with students is seeing the spark in their eyes when they realize how worthy and capable they are!

What advice would you give a young person building their future or finding their path?

My advice for young people building their future or finding their path would be to always give yourself the gift of grace and patience.