Why We Support Walk The Talk America
Walk the Talk America has been engaging with the mental health and firearm communities through outreach, education, and action since its beginning in 2018. With the goal of reducing suicides by firearm and promoting gun safety, the non-profit has actively offered mental health resources for their community. WTTA aims to dismantle the prejudiced barriers that often lie between the gun and mental health worlds by offering politically unaffiliated mental health education and resources to the gun community.
But what is the conviction behind the initiative? Michael Sodini, founder of Walk the Talk America, is often asked this question. Self-proclaimed as the most “Un-gun gun guy,” Sodini never expected to run a nonprofit that reached out to the firearm community. He initially left his home state and his family’s business in New Jersey to attend Arizona State University. After his graduation, Sodini moved to New York to pursue a career in the fashion industry where he succeeded as a model for three years before transitioning to real estate marketing. After a total of six years away from home, Michael decided to move back and work within his family’s firearm company, Eagle Imports. There, he worked under his uncle who was the president of the company. When his uncle passed away, Sodini’s good friend was promoted to president of Eagle Imports. But over time, this good friend began to suffer from personal struggles and tragically took his own life with a firearm.
This was a heart wrenching loss for Sodini. Being a member of the gun community through his family’s business, he had witnessed the losses of members grow each year. At every annual gathering, he noticed people were missing. He especially noticed an increasingly alarming rate of first responders and military personnel who were lost to suicide. But the gun community never confronted these losses beyond recognition.
After the loss of his friend, Michael became president of Eagle Imports where he continued to attend events within the gun community, unsettled by this unaddressed issue that was overwhelming the community. But it was not until a gathering in 2018 that Sodini confronted these losses and the lack of work that was being done to prevent them. When a woman asked him what happens in the gun community after mass shootings, he explained there is often a divide- with one group blaming mental health issues and the other blaming access to guns. Because of this divide, often nothing gets done and there is no change. But the woman was dissatisfied with this response and asked why these two worlds were not working hand-in-hand to address gun safety and mental health issues together within their communities.
This question caught Sodini’s attention. Why weren’t these worlds working together to put action behind words? Immediately, he began looking for existing organizations that he could fund. He found that many organizations were looking for money, offering buzz phrase explanations of their work, but there was no action to show for the money that they were accepting. Disappointed by this realization, Michael began making changes within his own company. Aiming to confront the issue with empathy and compromise, he included cards with links to mental health screenings in the packaging of the firearms he sold. The screenings allow gun owners to check in on their mental health without the fear of being flagged. He was not sure how the community would respond to this initiative, but people began to call their office and thank them for their care. Due to this positive response, Michael reached out to other gun companies and offered to provide pamphlets for their packaging. Over time, this simple change became a movement that was supported by many others in the gun community.
Since its foundation, Walk the Talk America has expanded its outreach. The organization now offers continuing education courses for mental health professionals that inform them of the importance of gun responsibility. Their “Kids to Kings” program reaches underprivileged communities and teaches kids about the effects of trauma, PTSD, and the importance of critical thinking. This program also teaches youth about gun responsibility.
Walk the Talk America has made waves in the firearm industry, but it has also gathered support from outside industries who are looking for a way to invest in the safety and wellbeing of their communities. When Joe Worley, President of Alphatech, Inc. heard about Michael Sodini’s initiative, he knew supporting the non-profit, including their pamphlets in AlphaTech’s product, and integrating some of their practices was an opportunity to see change within his own community.
Alphatech has focused on contract manufacturing since its foundation in 1999. But as the market has shifted over recent years, the company has found itself manufacturing more firearms than ever before. While this has been an exciting development for the company due to interest in the industry, the decision has been met with an understanding of the grave responsibility they have when distributing firearms to the public. Prior to this development within the company, Joe had experience teaching firearm safety and concealed carry courses that stemmed from his conviction of promoting responsibility around gun ownership. As he and the management team at Alphatech discussed their decision to manufacture firearms, they recognized a duty to promote gun safety and responsibility. shared a joint feeling of responsibility within their community and the firearm industry. Having known friends who have taken their own lives with firearms, Joe connected with Michael Sodini and the Walk the Talk America movement on an even deeper level. Alphatech is proud to support Walk the Talk America, and eager to see the future possibilities for improved mental health and firearm safety.
Author: Kathryn Worley, December 2022
Getting Into Go Karts
Why Go Karts? “Because we are makers and have competitive spirits”, says Joe Worley, President of AlphaTech. “During one of our employee outings, we visited Fun Depot, a local recreational site. Our guys enjoyed all the activities but kept coming back to the karts. Kletia and I decided that this should be a year-round event that builds momentum.” Kletia Goodson, head of the Human Resources Department for AlphaTech, and Joe Worley decided employee engagement should go beyond a once-a-year event. Based on employees’ enthusiastic response to Go Karts, they knew building and operating their own Go Karts would be a hit.
Art Kannup stated, “Go Karts will give the creators and makers here something to connect with and enjoy in their work.” Since AlphaTech is the manufacturer and ownership partner for two other American-owned companies, employees have been assigned to three teams: Team AlphaTech (ATI), Team North State Overland (NSO), and Team Avidity Arms. Members of the three teams are responsible for designing, manufacturing, assembling and modifying their Karts. They have assigned team captains, drivers, and even a pit stop crew.
Starting December 2022, teams will race on a track forged in the property surrounding AlphaTech’s machine shop. ATI plans to hold races quarterly, and winners will even receive a PTO bonus.
Robert Owen, part of the management team at AlphaTech and captain of Team Avidity said, “Employee engagement shows that companies care about their employees. There’s more to feeling valued than just pay and benefits. When you realize you are part of a big picture, it instills value, helps with overall attitude and quality of work.” The goal of the initiative is for employees to connect with their work and one another- to find the value behind what they do, and enjoy their craft. AlphaTech hopes employees will continue to embrace the games the way they have already begun to embrace the game preparation.
For some, the appeal of the games might be potential winner bragging rights or developing a new skill set. For others, it might be driving the Karts, or winning that PTO bonus. For AlphaTech, though, the goal above all is to bring employees together and create an enjoyable company culture.
As a family-owned business, knowing and valuing each employee is one of AlphaTech’s highest priorities. Whether it’s walking about the shop, personally handing out paychecks each week, or checking in with everyone throughout the day, the goal is the same: AlphaTech wants their employees to feel that they are part of a community.
This past Christmas, AlphaTech took a day away from work and provided food trucks and games as a way to build the family atmosphere they strive for. Art Kannup, who is the Vice President of Manufacturing and has been with AlphaTech since its beginning, said, “I noticed employees want to be part of something greater- not just running a machine. Engagement makes us feel like a team. We did games and stuff last year and it really engaged the employees. It renewed their excitement behind their work.”
Employees need to know they are valued and see their part in the company. When employees feel engaged, they are more likely to show optimistic, team-oriented, and passionate behaviors. Understanding this, AlphaTech has decided to direct their resources into a game-changing employee engagement initiative for the upcoming year: Go Kart racing!
Author: Kathryn Worley, October 2022