Tonja grew up in a “seemingly totally different world” in New Hampshire.

The tomboy often helped her mechanic dad and uncles fix automotives growing up.

Tonja is the oldest of five children--one of four girls and one boy.

In between her junior and senior year of high school, her family moved to Roswell, New Mexico.

Moving to Roswell took some adjusting. Because Tonja’s hometown was so small, Roswell seemed very large.

The weather was vastly different as well. Tonja recalled that her first winter in New Mexico her dad “wouldn’t let her drive” though there was less than two inches of snow.  Not because she wasn't used to driving in snow but because Roswellites were not.  There were cars sliding up into front yards

The food was also a major difference. “We didn’t know what tacos were,” she said, “let alone burritos or anything else.” Tonja now considers green chile a staple in her diet.

The biggest challenge of the move was the timing. It was a “difficult age to move at, but I knew it was best for my family,” she said.

Tonja got through it by “taking every day as it comes,” an ideology she still uses.

She lived in Roswell most of her adult life, getting married to her husband there 35 years ago.

They have two children, each grown and married, and three grandchildren.

Tonja worked in tourism at the Grand Canyon for a short time, but moved back to Roswell after her daughter asked “to go to a real school” with more students.

She considered parenting her full-time job until her kids grew up.

After her kids got older, Tonja realized she and her mother and grandmother all struggled with depression. It was something passed down “from generation to generation.”

Because of that, she was inspired to go back to college to “try and figure out what this thing called depression was” for her kids.  

She earned her associates degree in Roswell and continued her education at ENMU, where she earned her bachelor’s in psychology. She attended New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico, to earn her master’s degree in social work.

“The degree found me,” she said.

After her education, Tonja made many lifestyle changes, and her family did the same. “We all worked to overcome depression,” she said.

“Self-talk” was the biggest change her family made. They try to focus on positivity over negativity.

Tonja has a licensure as a master social worker and a licensure in drug and alcohol abuse counseling.

She says teaching drug and alcohol abuse classes help many middle-aged men and women recover.

Her advice to anyone struggling with depression is to first, “Admit it to yourself.”  She said, “We all have strengths and weaknesses. Focus on your strengths. Turn those negative thoughts off.”

Tonja said, “There comes a time for everyone when counseling becomes important. It is important that we are not afraid to get help.”

Counseling is “another tool in the tool box.”

While attending ENMU, Tonja’s professors influenced her in a positive way.  She was excited to come back as faculty and “pay it forward” because she  “wants to influence students in the same way that the professors influenced her.”

In the future, Tonja’s goal is “to make a difference in the community.” Rather than being “career-oriented,” she wants to be “making a difference in the people I interact with on a daily basis.”