With a long trail of accomplishments already behind him, Tony Giorgio is ready to work his magic on Western North Carolina.
In the nearly three decades of work, Giorgio’s charity Compassion for Kids has raised $1.5 million for 2,000 seriously ill children and their families in need of treatment.
Giorgio also helped pass legislation in Florida that prohibits utility companies from cutting off power without notice to children and adults with catastrophic diseases.
Giorgio is known for calling up everyone from governors to hospital administrators to negotiate care for those who cannot afford it, even some with health insurance.
Since moving to Maggie Valley, Giorgio has raised $42,000 for a Waynesville girl who was catastrophically ill.
Now, the New York native is turning his attention to teenagers in WNC who have fallen through the cracks.
After growing up as a street kid in Brooklyn, donning a leather jacket and even being chased by police, Giorgio admits he was no saint when he was young. But he was able to pull his life together and says that’s what will help him connect with teens.
“Even though I’m 66, I know what they’re going through,” said Giorgio. “Life experience is a big educator.”
Giorgio has lost three houses, two businesses, dealt with sickness, and experienced life at rock bottom. Yet his perseverance has kept him going, and he continues to help others in need.
“I survived it, and I can prove that it’s doable,” Giorgio said.
Giorgio showed a taste of that resolve when he camped out in Tallahassee in a little Motel 6 for practically two years to get the utility bill passed in Florida. He was no lobbyist and was only able to piece the bill together after studying books at the local library.
Nipping the bud
Giorgio was making progress with teenagers at a Salvation Army youth center in Waynesville, but the recession forced that and other similar programs to shut their doors.
He worries about the possibility of all his work unraveling as these teens return to the streets once more. Giorgio had gotten to the point where he’d gained the kids’ trust and learned how to discipline them effectively.
While Giorgio hopes to put together a new program for teens so he can pick up where he left off, he has yet to track down find funding or space. The urgent need for teen-oriented programs drives Giorgio on.
Giorgio’s biggest fear is that widespread program cuts will cost society more in the long run.
“They may have to be brought up in courts. They may have to go on state aid,” said Giorgio. “Letting them go...may come back at you, and you may be paying twice as much.”
Schools, churches, and law enforcement are all missing the mark, according to Giorgio, who advocates an alternative approach to assisting these teens with a heavy emphasis on listening rather than lecturing.
“Just to put a band-aid over the problem isn’t helping these kids,” said Giorgio. “You can’t demand discipline right off the bat when they don’t know you...They’ll respect you more if they feel you’re working with them and not against them.”
Giorgio said the current systems in place makes teens feel incompetent, rather than empowering them and teaching them life skills.
Giorgio’s plan for a successful teen program includes a few essential components: providing a hot meal, truly listening to the teenagers, and offering games and recreation.
He’d also like to have speakers and tutors at the center.
Rather than providing feedback on their parents’ problems or their teachers’ problems, Giorgio wants to focus on what the teenager sees as their own problems.
“I’m not talking just the usual run of the mill problems,” said Giorgio. “They have serious issues that they deal with every day.”
Giorgio plans to introduce faith-based education, including fundamentals of religion, though he won’t be shoving religion down the teenagers’ throats.
“As far as I’m concerned, God, Jesus and faith is on the good side of the scale, not the bad side,” said Giorgio. “If we can’t teach them good and represent good, then we’re missing the mark.”
Giorgio admits that times have changed since his days growing up in Brooklyn, undoubtedly for the worse. The deterioration of family structures across the country has made it hard for teens to get the support they need.
“What’s out there for kids is so much harder than what it was when I was growing up,” Giorgio said.
According to Giorgio, the biggest enemy to combat in WNC is simply boredom.
“They’re suffering from boredom,” said Giorgio. “You know what happens when kids get bored.”