Anthony Broncheau, a graduating senior at West Salem High School poses for a photo on Wednesday, June 2, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Anthony Broncheau’s business teacher remembers him as a “very shy, very timid” freshman when he started classes at West Salem High School.

But over the past four years, he’s become a leader in the school program, teacher Stacy Kilgroe said. She described how he’s served as a role model for younger students and thrived while supervising the student store.

“To see the growth of Anthony from a freshman to now, it's so incredible,” Kilgroe said.

Broncheau, 18, said he struggled with anxiety and feelings of isolation as a freshman. He missed a lot of class as he adjusted to the demands of high school.

As he found friends and got more involved in school activities, he said his mental health improved. That let him thrive working in the customer-facing role selling milkshakes and West Salem apparel to classmates during lunch. Broncheau said he enjoys the "people watching" aspect of the work, having brief conversations with classmates and selling them something that will brighten their day.

Now a senior poised to graduate, Broncheau most recently put his love of business to work creating U Matter. It’s a small business selling sweatshirts to raise awareness about mental health and suicide prevention. He started the project in November, shortly after his 18th birthday.

“I wanted to do something that was not centered around me as a lot of 18th birthdays are, and so especially with Covid when you're isolated and stuff, a lot of mental health issues are prominent,” Broncheau said.

All profits are donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and Broncheau said he’s so far raised about $600. Broncheau said wearing and selling the shirts at school has inspired more serious conversations with classmates about mental health.

“I'm reaching out to people who I never thought I'd be able to reach out to,” he said. “Your friends, especially guys in high school, are always joking around, having fun in the hallway … So it's nice to hear things that are a little more close to the heart,” he said.

Kilgroe said in the 24 years she’s been a teacher, Broncheau stands out for his altruism.

He volunteered with friends to sort donations and distribute necessities to families impacted by the wildfires last fall. In eighth grade, he also organized a three-on-three basketball tournament held at West Salem High in memory of a friend’s older brother who died while studying abroad.

Broncheau came to West Salem High knowing he wanted to take business classes, he said. As a sophomore, he began working in the student store.

By junior year, Kilgroe had promoted him to running the operation, training younger students. She said his presence makes other students want to get more involved.

Kilgroe regularly challenges business students to come up with marketing ideas and promotions.

Broncheau led the store employees in brainstorming a new milkshake flavor and name, she said. They ran a Valentine's Day promotion for a red velvet cake flavor named "Be my Valentine," making a video to promote the milkshake on the school's video announcements.

Kilgroe said his laid-back nature makes it easier for younger students to be comfortable around him.

“He's an outstanding student. All the students love to be around him,” she said.

Broncheau also worked as the student intern for the MAPS Credit Union branch on campus.

His involvement and community service work earned him a $3,500 scholarship from the credit union’s foundation.

Broncheau is attending Oregon State University in the fall and plans to study business, focusing on sports. He’s been a longtime Portland Trail Blazers fan and said he’d like to work as a sports agent, helping athletes better manage their money.

Broncheau said he’s grateful he’s been able to supervise a small bank branch and student store during his time in high school.

“There’s not a lot of opportunities like this at other places,” he said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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