This Community Engagement Director is Building Unique and Sustainable Relationships To Fight ALS Disease

Meet Tonya Hitschmann, Director of Statewide Community Programs at ALS Association Texas Chapter. It is a nonprofit organization that provides help, support, and hope to those suffering from the disease. 

In her career of 20 long years as a community engagement director, Tonya Hitschmann has been working to enable health transformation and help others build a healthy, long, and better life. Through her strategic health and wellbeing planning, she is trying to reduce lifestyle risks and helping to create a world without ALS. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a nervous system disease that weakens the muscles and affects the physical function of the patient. Tonya joined ALS Association in 2019 and works to support the patients and their families in the best way possible. 

Tonya had a traumatic childhood where she, her brother, and her mother were physically and emotionally abused by her father. They had to move a lot as her father was a con artist and always owed people money. After being physically abused and choked by him at 15, Tonya ran away from home to a church. She called a friend and with the help of her mother; she bought a bus ticket to Texas to live with her mother. She attended college in the state and even majored in Trauma-Informed Care from Texas Christian University.  

Her interest in serving grew during her years as a Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) where she worked with abused and neglected children. Being a victim of child abuse herself, Tonya could relate with these children and realized she wanted to work and uplift the needy and vulnerable. 

Talking about her organization, she says, “ALS is a devastating disease — physically, emotionally, financially and logistically”. ALS Association’s goal is to alleviate the burden from the shoulders of the patients’ families. They have multidisciplinary clinics for comprehensive care of the patients, support groups to connect the patients and family members with those in the same situation, and finally education and programming for caregivers, and for youth and children. The organization also provides bereavement and grief resources and is always ready to support the people at every step. Tonya’s role at ALS Association includes building unique, valuable, and sustainable relationships between the people and the community-based organizations. She is proud that the ALS Texas Community is supporting the chapter in a big way. In the past year, the chapter has focused on mental health, trauma, and resiliency. 

It wasn’t an easy ride for Tonya before she became a director at the ALS Association. “I felt I had to apologize a lot or offer explanations for why I could not do one thing or another. In my first salaried job, I was told that my ‘job description was written on toilet paper’ and I needed to not ask questions and do what I was told”, she says. But with time she realized that she had a voice and should use it to empower and help others. Tonya also notes that these struggles still exist in many ways that obstruct women from prospering and follow their hearts. She didn’t lose hope and strongly overcame all the challenges that life threw at her. 

Tonya lives her life purposefully and challenges others to do the same and discover their personal gifts. Inspiring all the women out there to take charge of their lives, she says- “Awareness creates a foundation for change. Pulling from an inspirational leader, Dr. Viktor Frankl- ‘when you are no longer able to change the situation you are in, you are forced to change the way in which you respond.