Tonja Akridge has been encouraging students and parents for 22 years as the social worker for Lufkin ISD. During her tenure, she has seen heartbreaking situations and brought hope to thousands. She works one-on-one with families who need help or resources to make their lives easier. She does it for the kids.
“I love children and families. I tell kids all the time you don’t have to just sit back and let things happen. Don’t let the cycle continue. This can stop here. For those down on their luck, you’re not by yourself,” she said.
Mrs. Akridge has always had a place in her heart for helping those who are less fortunate. She grew up in Jasper, Texas and comes from a long line of strong women. She graduated from Stephen F. Austin State University where she earned her degree in social work. She was a Physical Therapist Technician at a local hospital for seven years and worked at the Burke Center during college.
She said, “ I come from a long legacy of strong, Christian women. My mother instilled in me a passion for helping people. My mother and her mother had godly character and would tell me to reach out to people. I have two sisters, I’m the only redhead out of us.”
Among those in the lineup to continue the legacy of strong women in the family are her two daughters Leah, a senior at Lufkin High School, and Lindsey, a senior at Sam Houston State University. Both of which played softball in high school unlike their mother who ran track in high school. Softball wasn’t an option for girls at her school.
She and her husband, Mike, who is retiring at the end of the month from Parks & Recreation after 40+ years of service to the city, have been married 27 years and are always with the girls.
She said, “I love my girls. I love shopping with them. God has blessed us to have schedules where we can be with the girls and have family activities. We travel a lot playing ball.”
Mrs. Akridge begins her day at 7:30 a.m. at the DOI building across from Dunbar Primary. First things first, she along with the help of an SFA intern prepare for the day, which might include working with a child from a crisis center, dealing with a physical abuse concern, working with homeless families. They prioritize the day by which needs are most pressing.
Having an intern has been very important to Mrs. Akridge in getting her job done.
She said, “I wouldn’t be able to do home visits if I didn’t have an intern. A home visit would constitute helping intervene with a family, providing resources, having conversations with the parents. Families know I’m there to help and that I am non-confrontational. I don’t ever burn bridges because I’m there to help the child.”
Sometimes after a home visit is conducted, Mrs. Akridge refers the family to another agency that can help with their situation. Whether it be resources in the community like the Second Helpings group that recovers food from four of the Lufkin ISD cafeterias to deliver food to those in need or finding transportation for someone down on their luck. Mrs. Akridge is a big believer in self-determination to help people get to the point where they can help themselves and be able to help others one day.
She said, “The hardest part is letting go. You reach out to people. You don’t enable them. You encourage them. I don’t let students make excuses even if they don’t have electricity. I remind them to study before it gets dark. I tell them to have strength and that you can do this because one day you’ll be able to help someone else.”
Thank you, Mrs. Akridge, for your years of selflessness connecting with children and parents who need you.