Tony’s “The Choice” was provided to our secondary students in light of our community and students being impacted by the national mental health and addiction crisis. Tony’s story in itself was powerful; but what had the greatest impact was his raw and poignant authenticity that cut through economic or social status. His story truly reached the students. After each presentation, Tony made himself available for individual conversations and genuine human kindness. It is clear that this is his calling and that his story and wisdom will prevent so many others from making a choice that will adversely alter the course of their lives forever. I have not seen anyone better do this kind of transformational work that is desperately needed in all communities.
— Michelle Savko Sierra Sands Unified School District Assistant Superintendent, Curriculum and Instruction

Every now and again I get a call or email from individuals who are facing more serious struggles and that’s not to say they are messed up but sometimes events take place that require immediate action. Some schools take action, while others that I have mentioned in my local town, do not. SSUSD takes action and they need to be applauded for that. Recently a student had to be rushed to the hospital over a substance use related issue and the superintendent did not waste any time trying to find solutions for his students.

Schools across the country are in need of a young relatable face for their students. A person that can speak their language but also tie in the messaging the staff and parents are trying to teach these young lives. It’s not received well when a cop speaks, a Dr., or any other type of authoritative figure. This is where I feel extremely grateful, I am able to connect with the young generation and speak their language, i still feel like a kid, after all.

Ridgecrest is a unique and different place, I mean that in a great way. The staff go the extra mile locating students with larger than life struggles and really are doing what they can to try and empower these individuals so they can overcome the barriers they face on a daily basis. I can’t say enough about Michelle and Ernie, incredible people. Those students are lucky to have them overseeing their district.

I gave 3 presentations, 1 to the High school and 2 middle school presentations. The students in every talk were well behaved, there is always a couple “knuckleheads” but they never disrupt the flow of my speeches, I actually have ways to incorporate them into the importance of what i’m doing. I spent some extra time with a few students that the staff identified to me as really going through some rough times at school and at home. I wanted to spend that time for these students so I could make a connection and have an opportunity to maybe empower them in some way to let these staff members provide the help to them they need to succeed. This trip was so overwhelmingly positive for me and the students.

Thank you so much to SSUSD for hosting me!