Stephen Nawotniak set out in May of 2000 to prove that Millenials were not all apathetic and lazy. He had planned a twenty-seven month non-motorized trek around the United States, doing community service along the way. He called this Generation TreX and even designed a Master’s Degree program around it through Buffalo State College. He obtained partial funding through Americorps.
He canoed from Buffalo, NY to Albany, NY, then sailed down the Hudson River in a sloop to New York City. From there, he backpacked to Roanoke, VA and then bicycled to Key West, FL. At that point he learned his grandmother had passed away and he had to return home. That was in January of 2001. This forced him to revise his plans for the trip. He needed to raise additional money so he focused on updating his website, securing speaking engagements, and began developing a nonprofit agency.
Just when he was preparing to start on the next leg of his trek, September 11, 2001 struck. Stephen shifted his focus to addressing the wound this left by creating a violence prevention program through his nonprofit. It was called ACT on Violence Prevention and it focused on self-defense programs. He partnered with Americorps VISTA and the program was well received in Buffalo, NY communities.
Then in August of 2002 Stephen was hospitalized for acute depression and was given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. This caused him to go through an incredible period of adjustment. It took years for him to come to terms with, understand and accept that this condition was a part of his reality that he must face every day.
He became trained and certified as an Occupational Therapist. Through his work as an Occupational Therapist he developed skills and techniques that he wanted to share with others facing a similar condition so he wrote and self-published a book called Handbook for Healthy Living with a Mood Disorder.
I met Stephen in my Clarence Toastmasters Club and when he gave a speech on his experience it blew me away. He is a natural storyteller and an excellent speaker. You can read his blog Sharing the Journey to learn more and keep tabs on his inspiring story.
If you can make it to one of his events and hear him speak, live, you will find his warmth, sincerity and gift for storytelling to be refreshing and uplifting. Here is a link to his upcoming events. Whether or not you or anyone you know struggles with mental health issues, you cannot help but be inspired by Stephen’s story.
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