SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) For professional speakers around the country, the COVID-19 Pandemic has had an adverse effect on their livelihood.
For Central New York native, Ken Bartolo, it’s a matter of adapting to new times.
Bartolo, a former standout athlete in high school and college, as well as professional lacrosse player, travels the country speaking to over 250,000 students and athletes. He founded his company “There and Back Inc.” eight years ago and shares his story of opioid and alcohol dependency, which plagued his teens and early adulthood and ultimately ruined his athletic career.
As a teenager, Bartolo recalls sitting in his high school auditorium listening to a middle age man tell he and his classmates about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
“I laughed at him, I was like that guy’s a loser, that’ll never be me. And low and behold, here I am talking to you,” Bartolo says as he looks into the camera filming a virtual presentation for a high school in Colorado.
In his presentation, Bartolo tells students not to make the same mistake he did when he was sitting where they were just a few decades ago.
Bartolo is grateful to be able to provide virtual presentations to schools around the country, but misses the sense of unity and compassion in the auditorium or gymnasium when he speaks in person.
“I feel fortunate to be able to do virtual and be able to still reach people,” says Bartolo,”It’s much more convenient, I still think it’s really effective because the message is the same, but you do miss that sense of unity.”
That same unity that is felt among students when Ken shares his story.
“You could hear a pin drop in the audience, thats how quiet it was when he’s speaking,” says Russ Stevener, Principal of Holland Patent High School. “The fact that Ken shares his personal story, I think that gets kids to feel comfortable to come forward and talk about their issues,” Stevener adds.
And though the unity cannot be felt in person, it is critical now more than ever to host these types of presentations for students who are experiencing unprecedented times.
“I think the mental health concerns right now are far greater than they were at this time last year, so I think that the presentations even if they are virtual, they’re still definitely beneficial,” says Stevener.
Even though Bartolo’s presentation is virtual, his message could not be more present.