By Cary Shuman
Michael Tanner knows first hand how substance abuse can derail a young person’s life. The 31-year-old East Boston resident is a recovering substance user who is trying to help students make the right choices.
Tanner has been delivering his inspirational message to East Boston Central Catholic (EBCC) sixth, seventh, and eighth graders as part of his Healthy Choices program. Tanner is an EBCC alumnus.
In four separate, one-hour presentations at the school, Tanner told his story about substance abuse, its choices and consequences.
“I have found that my story wasn’t reaching enough kids,” said Tanner. “So with the help of my sister, Jennifer Tanner, I told a short version of my experiences of getting addicted to drugs at the age of 15 and the choices that led to the consequences that I have to deal with for the rest of my life.”
In a way to illustrate his message, Tanner had the students empty out tubes of toothpaste and then instructed them to put the toothpaste back into the tubes.
“What they quickly realized was that they couldn’t get the toothpaste back in to the tube,” said Tanner. “What it shows is that once you make a choice, you have to deal with the consequences, so think about something before you do it.”
Tanner also made a presentation to the students about peer pressure in which he had a student leave the classroom and return to the sight of all the students putting their hands on top of their heads.
“As soon as he sat down, that student puts his hands on top of his head. I asked him why and he said, ‘because everyone else is doing it.”
Tanner explained to the student that he should have asked a teacher or a role model – someone that he trusted – what he should do, instead of just doing what everybody else did.
“It’s a beautiful lesson because I did drugs because everyone else did,” related Tanner.
With the help of Joanna Ciampa, a well-known interior designer, Tanner developed a “media influence day,” transforming negative music lyrics into positive lyrics.
Tanner also enlisted the aid of his friend, musician Jacqueline LoGuidice, in the presentation.
Another of Tanner’s classes at EBCC focused on real life consequences featuring a presentation by Chucky Rosa, leader of “Chucky’s Fight.” Rosa lost two sons to accidental drug overdoses.
“Chucky told his inspirational story about how he changed his life around,” said Tanner. “He took questions from the students and we had all the students make a pledge to stay clean and sober.”
Tanner said the EBCC students responded well to the program.
“This year was the best I’ve felt about the classes,” said Tanner. “I felt like I was able to reach every one of the students in my own way and their own way. I see results. When I see one of the students, they greet me with great enthusiasm.”
EBCC Principal Maryann Manfredonia said that Michael Tanner’s educational presentations at the school have had a positive impact on the students.
“Because of his age and his personal experiences, the students have really listened to him and come away with a lot,” said Manfredonia. “They have responded well to his message. It’s been a worthwhile and productive program for our school.
“We as adults who haven’t gone through that horror of substance abuse – the message doesn’t really penetrate – but when they hear Michael’s story and his life experiences with it, it does make a difference.”
Joanna Ciampa also believes that Tanner’s message resonates well with students.
“I know how his message affects the students in a positive way,” said Ciampa. “I think they understand what he’s trying to do and what he’s about.”
Tanner is hoping to expand the program to other schools. He is busy right now trying to open a treatment center for recovering substance abusers.
He knows that every day represents an opportunity to help others. “I’m really focused on helping people any way I can and it’s been a journey. Our children need positive role models in their lives to show them that they can still be cool and be popular but be a good person and a leader, not a follower.”