“It’s a pleasure to get up in the morning and go to work,” said Toniette “Toni” Addison, a civil engineer for the National Forests in Florida. “I spend the majority of my time designing recreation sites on some of the most beautiful and remote areas of our forests.”
But things were not always so rosy for Addison. One of six children, she recalls a difficult life growing up as a young African-American girl in the projects of Fort Myers, Fla. Her single-parent mother frequently left Toni and her siblings at home alone to fend for themselves – at times for as long as two weeks.
She attributes her survival to her twin sister, Antoinette. At an early age, the twins as the oldest of the siblings, had a great deal of responsibility caring for three sisters and one brother. “We depended on each other when our situation got really tough,” said Addison. “We were washing clothes, fixing bottles and changing diapers.”
Reflecting on her past, Addison insists “It’s all about what you make it. You, as an individual, have to surround yourself with positive influences. That’s what I would tell anybody today who’s living in the projects.”
After graduating from high school, Addison received a full scholarship to Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. While there she applied for an internship with the USDA Forest Service under the Student Career Employment Program (SCEP).
SCEP is a way for college students to get a job with the government through on-the-job training internships.
Now in her fifth year with the Forest Service, she has had assignments as far away as Washington state. Today, she lives with her twin sister Antoinette in Tallahassee, Fla.
According to Addison, happiness is much more important than money. “As long as I continue to be happy I don’t want to go anywhere else. I like the Forest Service a whole lot. I think it’s because we’re such a close-knit family, but at the same time, our personalities and people are so diverse.”