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Tony Vezina remakes his life from homeless drug user to PCC student leader
Photos and Story by Abe Proctor
For Tony Vezina, the worst is already behind him.
The student body president of both Portland Community College’s Cascade Campus and of PCC’s District Student Council, Vezina is a man with his feet firmly planted in the present and his eyes on the future. His road to PCC, and to student leadership, was rocky, but he’s not looking back.
“Four years ago, I was homeless, stealing, and peddling drugs to find heroin,” he said. “Now I’m clean and sober, I’m healthy, and I have purpose in my life.”
Vezina’s recovery from addiction has not only afforded him an opportunity to remake his life, it has shaped his worldview and informed what he wants to do with his second chance. After trying several times to kick his addiction on his own, he credits the support he received in a men’s residential detox program run by Volunteers of America – a nonprofit that provides a range of services to low-income and marginalized people – with helping him on the road to recovery.
“Having people who were willing to help, who knew what I was going through, made all the difference for me,” Vezina said. “Volunteers of America was the igniter for my recovery. They helped me see that we are on this earth to help each other.”
With a clean body and mind, Vezina set his sights on improving himself as a person, and on finding ways to support others who were struggling with their own addictions. He is the co-founder of the 4th Dimension Recovery Center (4D), a Northeast Portland-based “event-driven” support center for young people in recovery that offers a range of drug-free activities like concerts, dances, hip-hop parties, and the like.
“I’m really proud of 4D,” he said. “Its primary purpose is to create an environment filled with things that young people like, but without the temptations that can go along with those sorts of things.”
Vezina was also quick to realize that education offered him a path to the sort of life he wanted for himself, as well as the means to better help others find their way to recovery. He earned his GED through a Multnomah County program, and found his way to PCC by way of a recovery scholarship offered through the Cascade’s Women’s Resource Center.
And then, once again, his world changed forever.“PCC has been revolutionary in my life,” Vezina explained. “It’s changed how I see the world and my place in it.”
Vezina was inspired to start a student recovery club at Cascade Campus, and then decided to pour his energy into student government. He was named president of Cascade’s Phi Theta Kappa chapter – the national honor society for two-year college students – and later became president of the Associated Students of Portland Community College – Cascade (ASPCC) for the 2015-16 academic year. Soon thereafter, he was elected by his peers to be the president of the PCC District Student Council.
“ASPCC has become my bread and butter,” he said. “Working with diverse populations has expanded my reality so much. The things I learn from my colleagues every day are helping me to be a better human being.”
True to form, he has not rested on his laurels in any way. Earlier this year, Vezina partnered with the Board of Directors to install a student representative on the board for the first time in the college’s history.
“I have found that PCC is filled with loving people ready to do the right thing,” he said. “That is the reason students were able to put a representative on the PCC Board of Directors; it takes a community to build a community. Community is what I found at PCC.”
And he’s nowhere near finished yet. He would like to see the college adopt a policy requiring all faculty and staff to undergo training in Critical Race Theory, and is pushing for the permanent establishment of an equity and inclusion coalition with representation from ASPCC as well as the college’s several Queer Resource Centers and Women’s Resource Centers. In late April, he was named one of two student recipients of PCC’s inaugural Equity and Inclusion Awards.
“It’s a great time to implement these ideas at PCC,” he explained. “We all want a more equitable college, a more equitable society, but our goals are disjointed and people are sometimes hesitant to cross lines to make them happen. We need more cohesion.”
So now that he’s conquered PCC, what’s next for Tony Vezina? He wants to continue his education, but he’s not certain yet where that will take place or which academic discipline he’ll pursue. He is absolutely clear on one thing, though: his life will be spent helping himself and others along their path toward enlightenment, one step at a time, despite the obstacles that may be in the way.
“I’m still an optimist!” he said, laughing.