Who. What. Why.
Originally from Grand Forks, ND (or more specifically, it's southern suburb, Thompson), I am a Dakotan in every sense of its geographic and cultural identity. Today I live in Vermillion, SD and work in Sioux Falls, SD.
I'm a veteran broadcaster and journalist. My educational degrees are in history (B.S. and M.A.) and law (J.D.) ... all at The University of South Dakota. Generally, my interests are in architecture, media and journalism, First Amendment and constitutional law, American history during the lifetime of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), social entrepreneurship, technology and informatics, golf, hockey, and beagles.
Today, I work for Face It TOGETHER, an organization working to solve the disease of drug and alcohol addiction. By title, I am the organization's Addiction Informatics Officer. Thus, I am primarily focused on data and information relating to measuring addiction wellness and the social impact of solutions. But as a member of our senior team and a dynamic team of social entrepreneurs, I'm privileged to engage in the constant pursuit of that which has never been done for people and communities suffering from the effects of addiction.
My life journey is filled with the pursuit of those personal interests above, but undeniably tied to my experience with the disease of addiction.
As a broadcaster and journalist at Leighton Broadcasting in Grand Forks, I was a talk show host, play-by-play announcer and executive producer. I led discussion on the community’s most vital issues with business and civic leaders, and with local, state and federal politicians and policy makers as host of a daily current events talk show.
Radio and journalism were my passions, but not my calling. During what was a turbulent time in my life, I got a taste of entrepreneurialism. At the very infancy of podcasting in 2004-05, I was there developing mainstream shows on a platform that was still developing. Had I known what I was doing; had I grabbed that moment; I might be doing something different today.
No regrets. That time then continues to teach me today in my work and in my life.
My journey to the present traversed over a long and difficult road. That journey was captured in part during a TEDx Talk, January 2014.
I am an addiction survivor. The disease has been in remission since 2005. What I do today is a result of both the positive and negative experiences associated with addiction. What I do today is fortunate because my survival is the exception to the rule. What I do today embraces my past to improve the future for others.
When the active disease finally took a backseat in my life, I turned very quickly to education. Although, I had plenty of professional experience in radio and journalism, there was a major educational gap in my background. Previously, I tried college at North Dakota State University (studying Architecture) and at the University of North Dakota (studying Criminal Justice and Sociology); but The University of South Dakota (USD) is where I finally found academic success.
As a non-traditional undergrad and a person setting an addiction recovery foundation, I began to observe the stifling culture of alcohol and addiction around me. Soon, I grew comfortable as an advocate. Speaking and writing about addiction and mental illness, but particularly, their intersection with the criminal justice system. Specifically, I engaged judges, attorneys, law enforcement officials and addiction experts on the benefits and problems with South Dakota’s 24/7 Sobriety Program (this program is 10 years old in 2015, and in part, saved my life).
In 2009, I earned a bachelor’s degree in history at USD. But, due to unique and serendipitous connections, the next path I would take would be law school; also at USD. I continued advocating for addiction and depression issues while a law student, helping establish a student-driven mental health initiative that continues today. I earned a joint juris doctor and master’s degree in history in 2012. And, in August 2013 was sworn-in as an attorney in South Dakota.
As the legal path opened up, I truly thought the perfect place for me would be in public defender's office somewhere. How better could someone with my history with addiction (and the criminal justice system) serve than as a public defense lawyer. However, the process of getting licensed -- demonstrating my "good moral character" -- made landing a law job difficult. Fortunately, while an undergrad, I got involved in the town hall process that would eventually lead to the founding of an organization called Face It! This organization in Sioux Falls, SD set out to do the impossible: fundamentally change everything a community knew about addiction and how to treat and deal with the deadly and destructive disease.
In October 2012, when I was looking around every corner for work, Face It TOGETHER was looking to build a regional and national presence to solve addiction. Face It!, the local organization changed it's name to Face It TOGETHER and eventually sprouted a separate national operation. That is where I wound up. However, I do not believe my landing at Face It TOGETHER was an accident. In 2005, I transitioned from a jail in Winner, SD to a sober home in Sioux Falls. The founder of that sober home was Kevin Kirby, the co-founder of Face It TOGETHER. I almost lost my life to addiction. My overcoming the disease in the way that I did, not allowing any hurdle or challenge to hold me back, is evidence that working with this organization and team of social entrepreneurs is meant to be. I've never really lived inside the box; so there is great comfort in working for an organization that lives outside the box. Solving the nation's number one public health challenge cannot be confined by artificial and historic walls.
The journey continues.
Most recently, I was named a Bush Foundation Fellow. This is a tremendous honor and recognition. The Bush Fellowship empowers individual leaders to have exponential impact in the communities where they live. For me, my 100 word statement puts on the head of a pin my intentions during the two year period of my Fellowship (2015-2017):
Through the blog on this website, I hope to chronicle my experience as a Bush Fellow and the work I do with Face It TOGETHER.
I am incredibly fortunate and grateful for where I am today. Numerous people whom I can name and many others whom I cannot, had a tremendous impact on my life. They represent a circle of good that fostered many opportunities, which led to me finding my passion and purpose. It is now my duty to share with others that which I have been given. The blog here is just a small manifestation of that reciprocity.